Prevention is key to avoiding tick-borne illness

May 18, 2017

With the temperatures getting warmer and the sun finally shining, we will be heading outside more and more. One thing to keep in mind and protect yourself from is ticks, which carry various infectious diseases.

May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month and the Midcoast — Knox, Lincoln and Waldo counties — has the highest rate of Lyme disease in the state. More than 1,200 Lyme disease cases were reported by health care providers to the Maine Centers for Disease Control in 2015. Ticks remain active year-round in temperatures of 35 degrees or warmer and hibernate in the winter. Incidences of other tick-borne illnesses are also on the rise in Maine.

Limiting exposure to ticks is the best way to prevent tick-borne illness — but that shouldn't mean being afraid to enjoy the great outdoors.

Paula Jackson Jones of Nobleboro is a survivor of late-stage neurological Lyme disease and four tick-borne co-infections. As president of Midcoast Lyme Disease Support & Education, she travels the state educating people about prevention techniques, the dangers of tick-borne infections and what to do if you are bitten by a tick. Since March, we have featured Jackson Jones' prevention columns on our home and garden pages in the C section each week.

Because most people do not recall a tick bite, how long the tick was attached or even what type of tick it was, prevention must be made a priority in order to reverse the growing numbers of new cases, Jackson Jones cautions.

There are a number of ways to prepare and reduce the chance of contracting Lyme disease, including wearing light-colored, long-sleeved clothing to make the ticks easier to spot and remove. Experts also recommend installing a buffer between wooded areas and lawns, reducing the deer population, and topically applying approved tick repellents containing at least 20 percent DEET. Clothing can be treated with products containing permethrin, or pre-treated clothing can also be purchased.

When talking prevention, Jackson Jones' talks focus on five areas: skin, clothing, pets, homes and yard.

DEET products used to be the only choice consumers had, but various all-natural and organic products are now on the market. Products containing picardin, which is derived from hot chili peppers, and essential oils are fast becoming a household choice for safety and effectiveness, according to mldse.org.

On clothing, it is recommended to treat with permethrin, an insecticide that adheres to clothes and will last between seven and 10 washings. Outdoor wear also can be purchased that has already been treated with permethrin.

Jackson Jones recommends keeping pets away from tall grass and wooded areas, because it decreases their exposure to ticks, thus decreasing the odds of getting bitten. Many reliable products are available to prevent dogs from getting fleas and ticks. These can include oral medications as well as “spot on” or topical formulas that are applied directly to your pet’s skin.

There are many options in treating your yard to repel ticks, from do-it-yourself sprays and granules to hiring a company to come and treat your lawn, but safety and the environment must always be considered. Inside the home, consider spraying a few drops of essential oils, such as lemongrass, eucalyptus, rosemary or cedarwood, into your preferred cleaning product, spritz your bedding, and treat furniture and pet bedding with permethrin.

Jackson Jones' Lyme Time columns with much more information can also be found on our website, VillageSoup, at http://knox.villagesoup.com/p/lyme-time/1636494.

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