Dr. Harry Chen, M.D., who is the Vermont Commissioner of Health, wrote this article on being tick smart for the Summer Long Trail News. Dr. Chen is a longtime GMC member and lives with his wife Anne in Burlington. They have three children, all of whom are Long Trail end-to-enders!
Deer ticks, which can transmit Lyme disease, are becoming more common across Vermont. Ticks hide out in high grass, bushy vegetation and leaf litter throughout the warm season waiting for a warm body that can provide a blood meal to pass by. So take the precautions below when hiking, doing yard work or just playing around.
Repel. Before heading out, apply insect repellent with up to thirty percent DEET. Treat clothes and gear with permethrin. Wear light-colored clothing (the better to spot ticks), long sleeves and long pants. Tuck pants into socks or wear gaiters (factory treated gaiters are especially effective) to keep ticks away from skin.
Inspect. Check yourself often to catch ticks before they bite. Do a daily head-to-toe tick check on yourself, children and pets.
Remove. Lyme disease transmission can be prevented if a tick is removed within about thirty-six hours, but ticks are so small they can go unnoticed if you aren’t looking for them carefully. (Nymphs are no bigger than a poppy seed.) Showering within two hours of coming indoors has also been proven effective. Wash and then tumble dry clothing on high heat for about an hour (if drying clothes treated with permethrin follow instructions on label). Also check gear for crawling ticks—these opportunists may hitch a ride and attach to skin later.
Detect and treat early. The first sign of Lyme disease is often an expanding red rash at the site of the tick bite. The rash usually appears seven to fourteen days after the bite, but sometimes takes up to thirty days to appear. Not everyone gets the rash, so be on the lookout for flu-like symptoms of early Lyme disease: fatigue, headache, fever, chills, swollen lymph nodes, muscle and joint pain. Lyme disease can be successfully treated with antibiotics, especially if given early.
Track ticks. The Vermont Department of Health has created an online mapping tool, Tick Tracker. The tool enables users to report tick bites, identify species, and see where other tick bites have occurred in the state. The more reports posted by users, the better the information the tracker can provide. You can also visit the Health Department’s website that offers extensive information about ticks and tickborne disease prevention and treatment.