By Christina N. Moresi, M.Ed., Environmental Education Planner, Wissahickon Environmental Center (Tree House)
As environmental educators, we often discuss with our adult and youth visitors the importance of outdoor play, and the dangers of tick bites. The comfort level of our visitors ranges from anxious or scared to comfortable and connected, but one concern that they have in common is ticks and Lyme disease. This is a valid concern that must be taken seriously, but one that should never stop you from spending time outdoors.
Ticks are arachnids (eight-legs) that eat blood to survive. When we speak specially about “Lyme disease ticks” or “deer ticks,” we are referring to the black legged-tick. These are extremely tiny ticks that are not always as noticeable on skin or clothes as the dog tick.
There are basic precautions that everyone should take anytime they are outdoors, front yard or forest and everywhere in between.
- Clothing: Cover as much as you can with light-colored clothes so that you can see if a tick on you.
- Repellent: Spray repellent on exposed skin and clothes. While DEET-based repellents are effective, the level of safety is often debated. Like-wise, the effectiveness of natural repellents is often called into question. Basically, it is what works best for you. Research and new developments have improved both over time, and the EPA has introduced a Repellency Awareness Graphic to support consumers to easily find the best repellent for specific uses. If you do choose a plant-based repellent, look for active ingredients (AI) such as, 2-undecanone, Nootkatone, or essential oils (rosemary, lemongrass, cedar, peppermint, thyme, lemon eucalyptus, and geraniol).
- “Tick check every day after play.”: Before leaving an outdoor area, and again before going inside, shake out and bush down your hair, hat, clothes, etc. from head to toe. Bag clothes, and wash and dry them in hot water/heat as soon as possible.
- Bathe and check again: Wash thoroughly as soon as possible, and check your dark and personal places for any raised black dot.
These steps may seem like a lot, but they are quick once they become routine, and will significantly reduce the chance a tick attaching to you and possibly transmitting Lyme.
Some other things to keep in mind about Lyme:
- Not all ticks are infected with the Lyme bacteria, and those that are can take 24 hours or more to transmit the disease while feeding. So while it is more important to be aware of the symptoms, early testing following a found tick can result in a false negative, or induce unnecessary worry.
- Symptoms of early Lyme disease may present as a flu-like illness and include symptoms such as fever, chills, sweats, muscle aches, fatigue, nausea, and joint pain.
- The Erythema migrans (EM) rash, or “bull’s eye” rash, may actually be any shape rash, anywhere on the body (not just the bite site), or it may not appear at all.
- Doctors are not always correct. Self-advocacy is key to diagnosing Lyme early and receiving quick, proper treatment. The later stages of Lyme are more difficult to treat, and can become chronic. If you think you have Lyme, insist on a test, or see a new doctor.
- Do not forget to tick check every day after play.