Mice and deer are two of the most common carriers of Lyme Disease (LD), so proximity to them can increase your risk of infection. In northern climates, ticks are more likely to be hanging out on plants, poised to drop onto hikers or passers-by. In southern climates, ticks are more likely to hide out in leaf litter to stay cool. This will help you devise a strategy that works best wherever you are.
Many people are unaware they’ve been bit by a tick, in part because nymph stage ticks are as tiny as poppy seeds (see pic above).
These tiny ticks are more likely to transmit LD, since they’re not as easily found, so are more likely to stay attached longer, increasing the risk of transmission.
Some sources say it takes at least 6 hours after a tick embeds for LD to transmit, though most agree it’s closer to 24 hours—HOWEVER there are other infections that can be transmitted earlier, such as Powassan virus, an infection that is much more deadly than LD. The only reason I’m NOT talking about specific types of ticks is that you really need to follow the same advice for avoiding ALL tick bites.
Many clients have asked for advice that doesn’t involve DEET. For those who don’t know, DEET is linked to damage in the central nervous system. Rodents given an exposure equivalent to typcial human use performed more poorly in sensorimotor testing than those who weren’t exposed. DEET is known to inhibit the enzyme acetylcholinesterase in the brain, an enzyme that breaks down acetylcholine. When acetylcholine isn’t broken down in a timely fashion, muscles are unable to relax, creating spasms, seizures, paralysis and other problems.
Instead of slathering yourself in chemicals, here are some tips for natural tick prevention:
- Cover up when hiking. Wear long sleeves and pants, and tuck pants into socks to keep ticks from migrating up bare legs.
- Wear light-colored clothing so ticks are easier to spot.
- Lint rollers are a handy way to pick up ticks–carry one /with you on longer hikes and be sure to do a thorough tick check when back home.
- Try a blend of essential oils. There are many that work: citronella, geranium, lemon, eucalyptus, lavender, pennyroyal and lemongrass. Choose a blend that smells good to you and combine with water for a spray-on version, or oil or lotion for a rub-on version.
- Inspect dogs and cats after they’ve been outdoors before allowing them to enter the house. Usually a quick brushing will dislodge ticks that aren’t embedded, but a closer inspection will be required for those that are.
- Make your yard a haven for wildlife, such as squirrels, chipmunks and birds. These small critters will provide other food sources for ticks, and are not known to carry LD or as many other pathogencs that can be transmitted to humans.
- Consider keeping chickens, voracious eaters of ticks and other insects.
- Ticks prefer taller vegetation, so maintain mowed buffered zones.
If you do find an attached tick, it’s important to remove it properly, with mouth parts intact. Grasp the tick close to the skin with tweezers or a specialized tick removal device (about $5 at most drug stores), and clean the site with soap and water or rubbing alcohol. Do NOT squeeze the body of an engorged tick when removing.
Be safe out there!
Patty Shipley, Naturopath, RN, Herbalist