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April 24, 2020 - 12:55pm

Public Health Column: How to protect against ticks and prevent Lyme disease

From the Genesee & Orleans County Health Departmenta:

Deer ticks live in shady, moist areas at ground level. They will cling to tall grass, brush and shrubs, usually no more than 18-24 inches off the ground. They also live in lawns and gardens, especially at the edges of woods and around old stone walls.

Deer ticks cannot jump or fly, and do not drop onto passing people or animals. They get on humans and animals only by direct contact. Once a tick gets on the skin, it generally climbs upward until it reaches a protected area.

“It’s important for you and your family to learn how to prevent a bite, how to remove a tick, and what to do if you think you could have a tick-borne disease,” said Sarah Balduf, Environmental director for the Genesee & Orleans County Health Departments.

In tick-infested areas, your best protection is to avoid contact with soil, leaf litter and vegetation.

“As we continue to balance the implications of COVID-19 and working to enjoy outdoor activities, remember to follow Governor Cuomo’s 10-point New York State on PAUSE Plan, including that individuals should limit outdoor recreational activities to non-contact and avoid activities where they come in close contact with other people,” said Paul Pettit, director for the Genesee & Orleans County Health Departments.

For more information about the New York State on PAUSE Plan click here.

However, if you garden, hike, camp, hunt, work, or otherwise spend time in the outdoors and maintain appropriate social distancing, you can still protect yourself:

  • Wear light-colored clothing with a tight weave to spot ticks easily.
  • Wear enclosed shoes, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Tuck pant legs into socks or boots and shirt into pants.
  • Check clothes and any exposed skin frequently for ticks while outdoors.
  • Consider using insect repellent.
  • Stay on cleared, well-traveled trails. Walk in the center of trails. Avoid dense woods and bushy areas.
  • Avoid sitting directly on the ground or on stone walls.
  • Keep long hair tied back, especially when gardening.
  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after going indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that may be on you.
  • Do a final, full-body tick check at the end of the day (also check children and pets), and remove ticks promptly.

What About Insect Repellent?

Consider using insect repellents registered with the Environmental Protection Agency:

  • DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) can be applied to exposed skin. Products that contain 20 percent or more DEET can provide protection that lasts up to several hours. Use the lowest concentration of DEET that you will need for the length of time you will be outdoors.
  • Picaridin is a colorless, nearly odorless ingredient that can be applied to exposed skin in a range of 5 to 20 percent of the active ingredient.
  • Permethrin: Clothes, shoes and camping gear can be treated or purchased pretreated with permethrin. Its protection can last through many washes.Neverapply permethrin to skin. The New York State Health Department recommends taking these precautions when using repellents that contain these active ingredients:
  • Store out of the reach of children and read all instructions on the label before applying.
  • Do NOT allow children to apply repellents themselves.

What Can I Do To Reduce Ticks In My Yard?

  • Keep lawns mowed and edges trimmed.
  • Clear brush, leaf litter and tall grass around the house, and at the edges of gardens and stone walls.
  • Stack woodpiles neatly away from the house and preferably off the ground.
  • In the fall, clear all leaf and garden litter, where ticks can live in the winter, out of your yard.
  • Keep the ground under bird feeders clean so as not to attract small animals that can carry ticks into your yard.
  • Locate children’s swing sets and other play equipment in sunny, dry areas of the yard, away from the woods where ticks can be abundant. For more information on Lyme disease, contact your local health department or refer to the NYS Department of Health website.

Also Consider These Important Facts:

  • If you tuck pants into socks and shirts into pants, be aware that ticks will climb upward to hidden areas of the head and neck, so spot-check clothes frequently.
  • Clothes can be sprayed with DEET or treated with permethrin. Follow label instructions carefully.
  • Upon returning home, clothes can be put in a high temperature dryer for 20 minutes to kill any unseen ticks.
  • Any contact with vegetation, even playing in the yard, can result in exposure to ticks. Frequent tick checks should be followed by a whole-body examination and tick removal each night. This is the single most effective method for prevention of Lyme disease.

How Can I Safely Remove a Tick?

If you DO find a tick attached to your skin, do not panic. Not all ticks are infected, and your risk of Lyme disease is greatly reduced if the tick is removed within the first 36 hours. To remove a tick:

  • Use a pair of pointed tweezers to grasp the tick by the head or mouth parts right where they enter the skin. DO NOT grasp the tick by the body.
  • Pull firmly and steadily outward. DO NOT jerk or twist the tick.
  • Place the tick in a small container of rubbing alcohol to kill it.
  • Clean the bite wound with rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide.
  • Monitor the site of the bite for the next 30 days for the appearance of a rash. If you develop a rash or flu-like symptoms, contact your health care provider immediately. Although not routinely recommended, taking antibiotics within three days after a tick bite may be beneficial for some persons. This would apply to deer tick bites that occurred in areas where Lyme disease is common and there is evidence that the tick fed for more than one day. In cases like this you should discuss the possibilities with your doctor or health care provider.

For information on Health Department services in Genesee County contact:

  • Genesee County Health Department at: 344-2580, ext. 5555, or visit their website.

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