Lyme disease affects tens of thousands of Americans every year. Its symptoms include fevers, rash, arthritis and facial paralysis. Chills, headache, achy joints and swollen lymph nodes are also common, especially at first.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lyme disease is caused by bacteria transmitted to humans via bites from infected blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks. Because infected ticks are more likely to live in certain parts of the country, some states see more than their share of Lyme disease cases.
In fact, 14 states account for almost all Lyme disease cases, the CDC says: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.
If you worry about the effects of Lyme disease, it’s important to know how to prevent it. Consider these steps.
Check your body & clothing for ticks after spending time outdoors
Lyme bacteria requires 36 to 48 hours for transmission, said Amesh Adalja, infectious disease physician at John Hopkins Center for Health Security. Therefore, checking your body for ticks quickly after outdoor activities should eliminate the risk of Lyme.
If you have just spent time in a tick-laden environment, shower immediately upon heading indoors, said Linda Giampa, executive director of the Bay Area Lyme Foundation. This could help wash away ticks that haven’t yet latched on, she said.
Also check your clothing for ticks so you can remove them if necessary. Tumble drying clothes on high heat for 10 minutes will kill ticks, the CDC said. You can also wash your clothing in hot water then dry with high heat to achieve the same result.
Learn how to remove ticks correctly
Let’s say you find a tick on your body. What then? Removing ticks correctly is crucial to rid your body of their effects completely, Giampa said. If you don’t remove the entire tick correctly, you could allow the tick’s mouth and the bacteria inside to remain in your body and cause Lyme disease.
Positioning the needle-nose tweezers between your skin and the tick’s mouth. From there, gently tug the tick straight up from your skin. The Bay Area Lyme Foundation has a step-by-step tutorial on its website.
This process may take a few tries, they note. Wash your hands and the area around the bite afterward.
Wear appropriate clothing in tick-laden environments
Wearing the right clothing in tick-laden environments is crucial, Adalja said. This includes bright-colored clothing that can make ticks more visible. Also cover your hair, wrists and ankles. Tuck your pants into your socks and wear long sleeves.
Use tick repellents
Using EPA-registered insect repellents containing DEET, IR3535, para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone can also help prevent the attachment of ticks, the CDC says. However, you should refrain from using these agents on small children or babies.
Choose hikes carefully
Hiking in areas where ticks are active can make you especially prone to bites, so choose your hiking trail wisely. Generally speaking, trails with tall grass, bushes and trees that brush against you as you're walking present higher risk for ticks. Avoid walking through high grass and stick to the center of trials.
You can also take steps to minimize ticks around your own home. If you have a large grassy yard, for example, mowing regularly can prevent ticks from getting too comfortable on your property, said Giampa. (Tired of taking care of your yard? It may be time to move to a smaller house.)