by. Dr. Bill Rawls & Ellen Berman
Anyone who has experienced Lyme disease is understandably paranoid about ticks. However, with disease prevention in mind, everyone should be more wary. Ticks carry a wide variety of undesirable microbes that are just itching for an opportunity to use your body as a host. That doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the outdoors. You just have to be vigilant. The following tick avoidance techniques and natural tick repellents can help.
TO AVOID TICKS:
Stay on the trail. Ticks hide under moist leaf litter until climbing onto a blade of grass, a twig or branch. Once in dry air they don’t last very long. Open, unshaded areas, well-managed trails, and mowed yards free of leaf litter are less likely to harbor ticks.
Cover up. Before you venture outdoors, cover your body with clothing. Wear a light-colored, long-sleeved shirt, and pants all the way down to your feet.
Be extremely vigilant. Whenever you brush by vegetation, stop and check for the possibility of a tick crawling up your legs or body. Ticks are difficult to spot and some are smaller than a pinhead. Put on reading glasses if you need help spotting a tiny critter.
Treat your pets. All blood-sucking insects carry potential disease-causing microbes. Since pets bring ticks inside, have your pet regularly treated to reduce ticks and fleas.
NATURAL TICK REPELLANTS:
Essential oils are safe, natural alternatives to synthetic insecticides and repellants. You can easily locate them online, in pharmacies, or outdoor stores.
Rose-Geranium Oil (50/50 with coconut oil). Apply to arms, neck, waist and ankles.
Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus. A 30% lemon eucalyptus oil preparation has been shown to be as effective as DEET in preventing both mosquito and tick bites. The extract is found in products such as Citriodiol and Mosi-guard, which should be applied several times a day.
Citronella and Eucalyptus. If you don’t care for the smell, try lavender, juniper, oregano, and clove. These oils compare favorably with DEET, but must be reapplied more frequently. Combine them in a 50/50 mix to increase effectiveness, blend in a 1:4 ratio with water or alcohol, and shake.
CHEMICAL TICK REPELLANTS:
It is important to understand that while botanically based bug repellents have a lower risk of unpleasant side effects, you may find they are not as effective as chemically based repellents. Here are three options you might try, keeping in mind that because of their toxicity they are not recommended for those recovering from chronic disease.
DEET. Apply it to your pant legs – not your skin. DEET is the active ingredient in many popular tick and mosquito repellants. It is the most effective repellant, but also the most toxic. Individuals with any debilitating disease or sensitivity to DEET should not use it; instead, choose a natural essential oil.
Permethrin. Apply Permethrin to clothing, socks, and shoes in advance. Do not apply to skin. Permethrin is a non-staining, odorless, water-based repellant that dries and bonds to cloth fiber. It resists degradation by sunlight, heat, and water. A synthetic form of natural pyrethrin, Permethrin specifically targets the insect nervous system and has low toxicity to mammals.
Picaridin. Some studies show this chemical to deliver long-lasting tick protection. It is a synthetic compound made to resemble piperine, a natural component of plants that are used to produce black pepper.
WHEN YOU COME INDOORS:
When you come indoors from gardening, hiking, or picnicking, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you:
- Check your clothes for ticks. Tumble dry clothing on high heat for at least ten minutes, or wash first in hot water.
- Take a shower. Showering within two hours of coming indoors helps wash off unattached ticks and gives you a chance to thoroughly check your body.
- Conduct a full body check. Be aware that ticks prefer warm, moist places, so pay special attention to armpits, in and around the ears, back of knees, between the legs, and around your hair.
These are just a few ways to keep yourself safe during tick season. If you get bitten by a tick or other insect, however, a healthy immune system is your absolute best protection against illness.