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Natural Medicine

Expert Tips: How to Avoid Tick Bites and Lyme Disease This Summer—and All Year Long

Alexis Chesney, ND, author of Preventing Lyme and Other Tick-Borne Diseases, offers her top tips for warding off these dangerous pests.

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There are more than 300,000 new cases of Lyme disease diagnosed each year. And while most think of it as a summertime issue, Lyme disease can occur at any time of the year, which is why being diligent is important year-round, says the Global Lyme Alliance.

Prevention

Evaluating and addressing environmental and other external impacts on health is a key component of a naturopathic doctor’s toolkit. To prevent Lyme and tick-borne disease (TBD), there are many proactive strategies to take, including the following:

Addressing tick habitat is paramount. Grass, low-lying shrubs, and leaf litter are common places where ticks can thrive. Ticks love high-humidity environments, between grassy and forested areas, wood piles, stone walls, and around the perimeter of buildings surrounded by grass.

Take the following steps to make your land less tick friendly and to address wildlife—like mice and birds—that are common tick hosts:

  1. Rake and remove leaves.
  2. Clear brush and debris from grass and gardens.
  3. Keep grass short.
  4. Trim shrubs and low branches.
  5. Create wide, grass-free paths made of wood chips or stone.
  6. Remove bird feeders or place them on the perimeter of the land.
  7. Demarcate border areas where ticks seem to thrive. Consider adding a 3-foot-wide strip of stone or wood chips in places where your lawn meets high-plant growth or any kind of structure—areas that are prime mouse habitat.
  8. Eliminate or limit wood piles, brush piles, compost piles, stone walls, and rotting wood, places that both capture moisture and are prime mouse habitats.

What About Pyrethroids?

Permethrin-treated clothing and gear is highly effective against tick bites and safe for use. In one study, researchers reported that “subjects wearing permethrin-treated sneakers and socks were 73.6 times less likely to have a tick bite than subjects wearing untreated footwear.” When treating clothing with permethrin, efficacy lasts for six weeks before requiring further treatment.

One can buy clothes that have already been treated with permethrin and there are companies that will treat clothing for people. There are factory-based techniques for long-lasting permethrin impregnation of clothing that allows for clothes to hold pesticidal activity against Ixodes scapularis (deer ticks) for 70 washes. A study conducted on workers from the North Carolina Division of Water Quality wearing clothing treated by this technique found a 99 percent decrease in the rate of tick bites acquired during work hours and a 93 percent decrease in the total incidence of tick bites.

While Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses are on the rise, you can equip yourself to ward them off with environmental tick control and personal tick bite-prevention tactics. Prevention is the best medicine. Implementing strategies to protect yourself from tick bites and Lyme disease instills confidence in safely enjoying the outdoors.

Find out more about preventing Lyme disease and other tick-borne illness at the Institute for Natural Medicine.

Alexis Chesney MS, ND, LAc is a naturopathic physician, acupuncturist, and educator. She is the author of  Preventing Lyme and Other Tick Borne Diseases.

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