Following a particularly difficult New England winter, many people are welcoming the warm weather with open arms. Outdoor activity brings many benefits, but it also brings the potential for attracting unwanted guests – ticks.

“Once the temperatures start to rise in May and June, we need to be aware of ticks and some of the illnesses they can bring,” said Edward Butler, MD, chief academic officer and hospital epidemiologist at Hallmark Health and chairman of the Department of Medicine at Lawrence Memorial Hospital of Medford. “There are some simple steps that we can all take to protect ourselves and prevent tick-borne diseases.”

Dr. Butler suggested that the number of ticks has grown in recent years caused in part by an increase in animal hosts. “In New England the deer ticks that are known to transmit Lyme disease are more prevalent on mice and deer. In fact, the average white-footed mouse, a backyard companion, may host 50 or more deer ticks (Ixodes) during the summer months.”

“Prevention is the best medicine with tick-borne illnesses,” said Dr. Butler. “It is important to know how to keep ticks off of you and how to get them off quickly.”

To keep ticks from attaching to your skin, follow these tips:
• Wear long pants and long sleeves when walking in the woods or other tick-friendly areas.
• Use a long acting DEET-based repellant on both clothing and skin.
• Bathe or shower within two hours after coming indoors.
• Check your body thoroughly. Use a mirror to check warm, moist locations such as behind the knees, under the arms, between the legs, on the ears, in the belly button and in the hair.
• Be sure to examine pets and gear, such as backpacks.
• If you live close to the woods, use tick tubes in your yard

Lyme disease is the most widely talked about and the most frequently contracted of the tick-borne diseases in New England. It is spread when an infected deer tick bites and attaches itself to the skin. “In most cases, the tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours before it transmits the bacteria that cause Lyme disease,” added Dr. Butler. “During that window there is time to remove the tick safely.”

If you find a tick attached to your skin, use a pair of fine tweezers to grab the tick’s body, and using steady, constant pressure, pull the tick away from the skin. “The bacteria that cause illnesses are located in the tick’s gut,” said Dr. Butler. “So while it is best to remove the entire tick, if some of the head remains attached, you should be okay.”

The typical symptoms of Lyme disease include headache, fever, fatigue, joint pain and the characteristic circular “bulls-eye” skin rash. Most cases are treated successfully with two to three weeks of antibiotic treatment. If left untreated, some extreme cases may need to be treated in the hospital.

“If you have been exposed to a tick and start to experience some of the symptoms, it is always the safest bet to get checked out by a clinician,” added Dr. Butler.

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