Ticks are more than mere annoyances. Yes, their bites are gross, they’re painful to remove, and they can leave spots that itch for days. But they can also transmit dangerous illnesses and diseases to humans. Some of these ailments include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tick-borne relapsing fever, and southern tick-associated rash illness.
There’s even a growing issue called alpha-gal syndrome of humans developing an allergy to most mammal meats after the people have been bitten by the lone-star tick. The desire to continue being able to eat steaks and burgers may be reason enough to take tick protection seriously.
The bonus in defending yourself from ticks is that the same tactics should also ward off mosquitoes, another potentially dangerous warm-weather insect that wants to suck your blood. So what can you do to protect yourself from these mini vampires?
Know your enemy.
Ticks are most active in the spring and fall: April and May and September and October. Be especially vigilant at these times, but also be aware that they are hungry for blood virtually any time that the temperature has been above freezing for more than a couple of days.
Ticks are most likely to get on your body by crawling off of grasses and bushes and then working their way to the juiciest morsel of your skin they can find—often in dark areas like your waistband and beneath your socks.
Wear light-colored clothing, which makes it easier for you to spot the suckers if they are crawling on you. If you’re not into the idea of flicking ticks off of your body and into oblivion, you can bring a sticky lint roller with you while you’re out and occasionally run the roller over yourself to pick up any nasty stragglers. (Always be sure to properly dispose of your trash while you’re out in the woods, please.)
Wear loose-fitting clothing. More than anything, this is good protection against mosquitoes, because they can bite through tight-fitting clothes. Tuck your shirt into your pants and cinch that belt, tuck your pants into your socks (pretend they’re old-fashioned breeches), and lace up those shoes. Also, wear a hat.
You can purchase clothing that has been pretreated with permethrin. Pros say that this is one of the most reliable ways of fending off—and killing—ticks.
According to LymeNet Europe, “Permethrin is an insecticide derived from a chemical found in the chrysanthemum family of plants. It is a spray that is used on clothes only, and is deactivated and made less effective by the oils on our skin. Once it is sprayed on our clothing, it becomes odorless and can last for several weeks with a single application. Once it is applied, most ticks will curl up and fall off if they make contact, and will eventually die if there is prolonged exposure.”
You can pay to get clothes treated or you can look into getting home-application products. Get the most bang for your buck by treating shoes and socks, which are where ticks are most likely to try to get at your precious blood.
Finally, when you get home from tick-populated areas, wash clothes immediately or toss them in the dryer at high heat to get rid of any stragglers
Educate yourself about the ingredients. Here’s the simplest thing to remember: Use DEET for your skin and permethrin for your clothing. It’s a serious one–two punch against ticks.
A Consumer Reports buying guide notes that picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus are safe and effective at warding off mosquitoes, but DEET is your number one tick preventer. Products featuring IR3535 or 2-Undecanone are less effective.
Finally, be very wary of home remedies that promise to keep you tick free. Stick with products and methods that are proven to work. Using a folksy approach is not worth the risk of getting a tick-borne illness.