It's Tick Season. Here’s How to Stay Safe

5 tips from an expert at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine
woman applying bug spray to a boy
Bug sprays with DEET are a tried and true way to repel ticks. Photo: iStock
June 28, 2017

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Deer ticks can carry six different infections in the eastern United States, and the risk of contracting Lyme disease alone is enough reason to take measures to protect yourself. Sam Telford, a professor of infectious disease and global health at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and a leading expert on infections spread by mosquitos and ticks, shares the best ways to protect yourself.

Make protection part of your routine. “The most important step is to be aware of the many places you can encounter ticks,” Telford said. Taking protective measures must become as ingrained as buckling your seatbelt whenever you’re in a car.   

Use proven repellants. People get nervous when they hear “DEET,” but it’s tried and true. “There have been millions of doses of DEET applied with very few adverse events,” Telford said. “Use a repellant that includes at least 20 percent DEET on your skin as directed by the label.” To further repel ticks, you can also wear clothing treated with permethrin. (Be sure to keep permethrin spray and still-wet treated items away from cats as the chemical is highly toxic to them; once dry, treated clothing should pose little risk.)

Do a tick check. Every night. Ticks are almost impossible to find in your own hair, so enlist a family member or friend to scour your scalp. Feel your body for new bumps while soaping up during a shower—experts recommended you take one after engaging in outdoor activities to help dislodge ticks.

If you find a tick, pull it out. Tweezers work best. Don’t worry about getting the tick tested afterward: Even if a tick tests positive for a pathogen, that doesn’t mean it transmitted a disease to you, and a physician is unlikely to treat a healthy person based on a positive test. Tick tests may also offer a false sense of security. “All it means is that tick wasn’t carrying a disease,” Telford said. “But you were careless enough to let a tick get on you. You found one tick—have you found them all?”

Watch for fevers and rashes. If you develop either, see a doctor. You also may want to talk to your doctor if you’ve had a tick on you for between 24 and 48 hours. It takes about a day for a tick to transmit Lyme disease, but if you catch it soon afterward, Telford said, “there’s good evidence that taking two 100-milligram doses of doxycycline reduces your risk of developing Lyme disease by 85 percent.”

You can keep your pets safe from ticks by following advice from Michael Stone, a clinical assistant professor at Cummings School. For more on tick safety, check out tips from the CDC

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