The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 16, 2003


Know the basics of Lyme disease prevention

Most of us learn about basic health care from our families and teachers in childhood. We are taught to wash our hands before we eat, to cover our mouths when we sneeze, to clean and dress minor wounds, etc. In this tradition children growing up in Carlisle also need to learn how to prevent Lyme dis-ease. The thing about Lyme disease that makes it different from the common cold, measles, or a wound infection is that it is a newly-defined disease. Our adult population was not taught a thing about Lyme disease in childhood because Lyme disease had not yet been discovered. So, we all have to learn how to avoid Lyme disease together. Since this can be a disabling condition and we have no available vaccine to prevent Lyme disease, avoidance is the cornerstone of protection. (There was a vaccine for humans but it has been taken off the market.)

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by borrelia burgdorfi. Humans contract Lyme disease when a deer tick infected by borrelia burgdorfi bites them. So, avoiding a tick bite is the first opportunity to avoid contracting Lyme disease. It turns out that this is the most practical approach to preventing Lyme disease.

Ticks live in the woods, bushy scrub and grasses that surround most Carlisle yards, but you and your pets can also pick them up on your lawn or flower and vegetable gardens. They are active at temperatures above freezing. To avoid giving ticks access to your skin it is best to wear long sleeves and long pants whenever you are in the woods or bushes. Ideally the pants should have tight fitting ankles or be tucked into boots or socks. Ticks tend to be less attracted to light colors and they are much easier to see crawling across light-colored clothing. So, it is best to avoid wearing dark colors when you are in the woods.

The insect repellent DEET repels ticks and is an important help in prevention. The higher the concen-tration of DEET the more effective it is, but beware that the more concentrated forms of DEET are not approved for use on children. The department of public health recommends using products with no more than 10-15% DEET on children, and no more than 30-35% on adults. Read labels carefully.

Any Carlislean knows that you may be able to avoid most of the ticks most of the time but sometimes you will bring a few home. So, after you have been in our natural habitats do a tick check. Take of your clothes, shake them and look for ticks on the surface below. Then check your skin. Ticks tend to crawl to dark places before they attach. Remember to check behind your ears and along your hairline.

If you find a tick that has recently attached, grasp it firmly and pull it out. If it is not engorged you can discard the tick. An infected tick has to be attached about twenty-four hours before it regurgitates its stomach contents into its host and transmits Lyme disease. Newly attached ticks do not pose much of a threat for Lyme disease. But, any tick bite should be monitored for signs of an evolving rash. If a rash develops, or if you find an engorged deer tick, call your doctor's office. Deer ticks are small, even when they are engorged they are not much bigger than a tomato seed. Early treatment prevents the more disabling complications of Lyme disease.

To prevent Lyme disease it is important that to get in the habit of dressing appropriately. But be reasonable; if the temperature is ninety degrees, long sleeves and long pants do not make sense. If you wear shorts and a tee shirt, use DEET and be extra careful doing the tick check.

Remember, these are habits our children need to learn, both to protect themselves and to teach their children. Kids do not like tick bites, so they have some incentive to learn these recommendations: long pants and sleeves when possible, light-colored clothing, apply DEET especially if you need to wear short pants and sleeves and do a skin check for ticks whenever you have been in the woods or fields.

2003 The Carlisle Mosquito