One of the perks of summer is the multiple opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors.
But like most good things, there are also drawbacks to all that time outdoors, including creepy, crawlies, like ticks. And the bad news is, ticks don't just feast on your pets, they also like to dine on you.
In fact, statistics show in the U.S., ticks are responsible for more human disease than any other insect. The Oklahoma Department of Health reports there are at least six different tick-borne diseases that have been reported in the state: Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, tularemia, Lyme or a lyme-like disease and Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness.
And while ticks don't care if their meal comes from an adult or a child, some tick-related illness can have a more profound affect on children. Even worse, bites can happen even if a tick isn't actually found attached.
Does that mean you and your children should stay indoors all summer? Mercy Clinic physician Brooks Zimmerman, D.O. says absolutely not, if you take a few precautions.
"You can reduce your chances of getting a tick-borne illness by following a few simple steps," Zimmerman says. "Use the appropriate repellents, check yourself and your little ones for ticks after being outdoors, and shower when you come in."
Here are some preventative tips offered by the Centers for Disease Control:
- Use a repellent with DEET on skin. Repellents containing 20 percent but less than 30 percent of DEET can protect up to several hours. Always follow product instructions. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding the hands, eyes and mouth. Insect repellents are not recommended for children less than 2 months of age.
- Products containing permethrin kill ticks. Permethrin can be used to treat boots, clothing and camping gear, and remain protective through several washings. But, remember, permethrin-containing products should not be applied to the skin.
- After being indoors, remove any ticks found on your clothing and run the clothes in the dryer on high heat for about an hour to kill ticks.
- Take a shower. Showering within two hours after being outside has been shown to reduce risks for Lyme disease, and it helps wash off unattached ticks.
- Check for ticks. Use a mirror to help check your body for ticks after being outdoors.
- Do not use products that combine DEET with sunscreen. The DEET may make the sun protection factor less effective. These products can overexpose your child to DEET, because the sunscreen needs to be reapplied often.
"Something else to consider is if you find a tick — be careful how you remove it," Zimmerman says. "The best way to remove a tick is to use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible, pull it straight out and then clean the bite area with soap and water."
Should you be concerned if you find you or a member of your family has been bitten by a tick? Not necessarily.
"The risk of acquiring a tick-borne illness depends on what type of tick bites you, and how long it was attached. If a rash develops at the site where the tick was or you get a fever in the days or weeks after a tick bite, then you should see a doctor," Zimmerman says.
Are you safe from tick bites if you stay out of wooded areas? Nope. While ticks commonly live in moist and humid environments, and most often in wooded and grassy areas, that doesn't eliminate your own yard.
However, Zimmerman says there are things you can do to reduce not only ticks, but other biting insects from staking a homestead claim in your yard or moving into your house.
"Take time to clear tall grass around your home, lay gravel or wood chips between yards and wooded areas and consider using pest control," he says. "It's also important to use a flea and tick preventative on your pets in order to prevent them from bringing the pests inside your home."