Any nature lover will tell you that the threat of Lyme disease is more than a little unsettling. And it's a threat that's increasing: The CDC recently estimated that about 300,000 Americans are diagnosed with Lyme disease each year-about 10 times more than they originally believed. Lyme disease is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacteria transmitted to humans via the bite of infected deer ticks. Here's how you and your family (furry ones included) can steer clear of ticks, and what to do if you get one.
Know your regional risk
Lyme disease is more common in areas of the Northeast and Midwest than other parts of the country-but just because you live in the south doesn't mean you can ignore the threat. Take a look at the CDC's interactive lyme disease map to find out if you live in a region more prone to Lyme-carrying ticks.
Revise your hike
That spot overlooking the valley is perfect for pictures, but the high brush and grassyou have to trek through to get there is where you'll likely come in contact with a tick. If you're still willing to climb, be sure to give yourself (and your hiking buddy) a total-body tick check, including your hair, when you get home.
When hiking or camping in potential tick hot spots, reduce your risk of one latching on by wearing long pants and long sleeves. Tuck pant legs into socks so ticks can't crawl up your leg, and spray your clothing and shoes with tick repellent. Even better: wear white or light colors so it's easier to spot them.
De-tick your clothes
If you think you may have come in contact with a tick, put your clothes in the dryer and spin for 20 minutes-it's enough time to kill any unseen ticks.
Tick repellents containing the chemical DEET are helpful for walks, camping, or yardwork. But if you're not into the chemicals, Andrea Gaito, MD, a New Jersey rheumatologist specializing in the treatment of Lyme disease says you can use moisturizers and sprays that contain lemon essential oil to repel ticks. Or, try this DEET-Free Bug Repellant.
Check your pets
Ticks love to hitch a ride on your pup's thighs, ears, and belly. If your pooch is more of a woodland creature than a lap dog, protect him and your home with a prescription-strength preventative tick killer (like Frontline or K9 Advantix) or look into a Preventic collar which paralyzes ticks and keeps them from latching on. If you live in a high-risk area, be vigilant about checking your pet after every walk.
Remove ticks safely
If you see a tick after a walk, don't panic-it takes two to three days for a tick to start passing on the infection. Gently grab the tick by its head or mouth (that's where they enter the skin) with fine point tweezers and pull it away from your skin in a steady motion. Don't squeeze or twist, as you could release Lyme-containing bacteria into your skin. Put it in a jar of alcohol to kill it, and take it to your doctor if you want it tested.
Know the symptoms
About 80% of infected patients develop a circular, sometimes oval-shaped, red rash. It starts as a small red spot at the site of the tick bite and often appears as a "bull's-eye" rash with a red ring surrounding a clear area with a red center. Other symptoms to watch out for are fever, headache, stiff neck, fatigue, and body aches, which can occur anywhere from 3 to 30 days after the bite.