It’s a disease so mysterious that even the CDC isn’t sure just how often it’s misdiagnosed. Even worse, it’s so misunderstood that even once it’s been “cured,” sufferers can battle debilitating symptoms for the rest of their lives.
Perhaps most frightening of all is the number of cases has exploded. And it’s spreading faster and farther than experts ever imagined it could.
I’m talking about Lyme disease, of course. It and other tick spread diseases are skyrocketing. And it has experts concerned.
Avid outdoor enthusiasts have had Lyme on their radar for years. However, most average folks, and city slickers like me, have only heard about Lyme through an occasional news report.
But as ticks are moving into neighborhoods where they’ve never been before, they’re bringing diseases with them. Which means we all need to educate ourselves on how to stay safe.
I’ll share five practical tips with you in just a moment but first, let’s take a closer look at the Lyme threat.
Taking a closer look at the Lyme Disease threat
This summer experts announced they spotted disease-carrying ticks in 83 counties across 24 states where they’d never been seen before. And they found two types of ticks—the lone star tick and the black-legged tick—in completely new states.
And unlike many other insect bites, a tick bite could leave you fighting symptoms for the rest of your life. Lyme disease, for example, can live inside your body for years. And undetected it continues to wreak havoc, sapping your energy and attacking your immune system, until it’s finally diagnosed and treated.
And for some folks, the nightmare doesn’t always end there. Many Lyme victims develop Post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome. Which means their immune system and damaged tissues become so compromised they just don’t bounce back.
And it’s not just Lyme disease. Ticks carry more than a dozen different diseases, including babesiosis, a life-threatening blood disease now found in 10 states and 26 counties.
5 tips to help you avoid tick bites
So how do you stay safe when walking the dog, playing outside with the grandkids or having a picnic in the park? Following are five simple steps you can take to slash your chances of becoming a tick’s next meal.
1. Wear light clothing:
Your clothes are your first line of defense. Light-colored clothing is less attractive to ticks than darker shades. Plus it’s easier to spot the little buggers should they latch on.
2. Don’t assume you’re safe:
Just being in your own backyard can expose you to ticks, especially now that they seem to be on the move. Even when you stick close to home, don’t assume you’re safe.
Whenever you come inside, do a visual check of your body, paying close attention to your groin, underarms and scalp. Be sure to check pets, too, so Fido and Fluffy don’t transfer them to you once you’re all indoors.
3. Try natural tick repellents:
Tick experts typically say DEET is the most effective insect repellent. But if you’re like me and potential side effects from this creepy chemical make you hesitate, there are other options. The CDC recommends several natural tick-repelling ingredients for your skin, clothing, and even the yard itself:
- 2-undecanone made from oil from the wild tomato (look for Bite Blocker with BioUD)
- garlic oil
- a blend of rosemary, lemongrass, cedar, peppermint, thyme and geraniol oils (one we like is YAYA Organics Tick Ban)
Look for all three online or in stores that sell natural products.
4. Stop in the laundry room:
When you head inside for the day, strip and toss your clothes directly into the dryer on high heat for about 20 minutes. The super-heated air from the dryer will help kill any ticks which might’ve hitched a ride inside on your clothes.
If your clothing is too dirty to toss into the dryer first, use the hot water cycle to wash them. Cold or warm water won’t kill the ticks.
5. Keep an eye out:
The symptoms of Lyme disease may not show up for several days, weeks, or even months after a bite. Which means you need to be aware of potential symptoms and keep an eye out for them.
If you start feeling as if you’ve come down with the flu and it just won’t quit, feeling run down or fatigued “for no reason,” tell your doctor about it. A blood test can spot Lyme and the sooner you treat it, the healthier you’ll be in the long-run.