Thursday, May 22, 2008

Preventing Tick Bites And Lyme Disease

StatePoint - They're popping up in backyards, gardens and campsites nationwide, and spreading the country's fastest growing chronic disease.

They are ticks -- small arachnids that readily attach themselves to people, pets and livestock. Ticks are potential carriers of Lyme disease, an often misdiagnosed illness that can cause symptoms ranging from rash to flu-like feelings to joint, heart, lung and nervous system abnormalities.

"Tick bites occur virtually year-round, any place with grass, plants, bushes or trees. The good news is there are steps you can take to protect your family from tick bites and Lyme disease, and even to reduce the potential number of ticks in your yard," said Constance Bean, author of the new book "Beating Lyme: Understanding and Treating This Complex and Often Misdiagnosed Disease."

According to Bean, a former coordinator of health education at MIT, you can help safeguard loved ones by dressing them appropriately when they are outdoors, by vigilantly checking for ticks and by correctly washing both people and clothing.

Here are some tips from her book "Beating Lyme" on what you can do to protect against tick bites when spending time outdoors:

* Since ticks hide in collars and folds of clothes, clothing should be removed and examined closely after exposure to tick habitats.

* To make ticks more visible, wear light-colored clothes, socks and shoes.

* Examine skin frequently, even after two or three hours, while you are outdoors to discover any tick attachment.

* Clothes worn outdoors should be put into the dryer for at least twenty minutes, preferably a half hour, at high heat. If the water in your washing machine isn't hot enough they can survive, but are vulnerable to dehydration in the dryer.

* Ticks are difficult to spot in hair, on the hairline, behind knees and ears. They prefer inaccessible places such as the groin or under the arms. After time outdoors, take a shower and wash your hair. However, showers only will remove ticks that aren't yet attached to your skin.

* Shoes should be carefully examined or left outside the door. Examine them again before putting them back on.

* Consider spraying outer clothing and exposed skin (not the face, however) with a tick repellent containing Deet or the pesticide, permethrin. You can find such products at your drugstore or supermarket.

Ticks prefer shaded, protected, moist locations, and even can be found on outdoor seating. With this in mind, there things you can do to reduce the number of ticks in your yard and around your home. Bean advises:

* Keep grass cut and shrubs trimmed. Remove brush and leaf piles. Keep woodpiles away from play areas.

* Use woodchips around recreation areas and as a barrier between yard and woods.

* Avoid sitting on tree stumps, wooden park benches and stone walls.

* Be aware that kneeling amid foliage while gardening exposes your head and neck to ticks.

* Remember that pets may bring ticks into your home.

"If you are bitten by a tick, don't panic. Remove it and save it in a plastic bag for your doctor and ask about taking a preventive course of antibiotics," said Bean. "Remember not all ticks carry Lyme disease and, if caught early, Lyme disease usually can be cured quickly."

For more information on avoiding tick bites, recognizing symptoms, and learning how to treat and cope with Lyme disease, speak with your family doctor or read the new book, "Beating Lyme," written by Bean with Dr. Lesley Ann Fein.

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