Sick of icky ticks? It's only March and I've already pulled my fair share of the nasty blood suckers off of my kids and pets. And health experts say things are only going to get worse. In fact, this year may just be the worst year ever for ticks, potentially causing a rise in Lyme disease infections.
Every year, 40,000 cases of Lyme disease are diagnosed in the U.S. Two years ago, my daughter was one of those cases. We've been lucky with her symptoms so far, but it's certainly something I always worry about. This year, I'll worry even more about her and the rest of our family as health experts are predicting 2012 to be the worst year for Lyme disease risk ever. The combination of mild winter and poor fall acorn crop means there are more ticks and few hosts for them to bite. So they'll be turning to humans for their spring meal. And those bites have the potential to spread Lyme disease.
Vigilance is the key to preventing and reducing these nasty bites. If you live in or close to a wooded area or spend any time in wooded or grassy areas, you need to take precautions. Here's how:
Use insect repellent on both you and your pets before you head outdoors.
If you are hiking in a grassy or wooded area, wear light colored clothes and tuck pants into socks and shirts into pants.
Check everyone — pets, kids, everyone — for ticks before entering the house.
Wash and dry all clothing you have worn outdoors in a dryer with a hot cycle.
So what do you do if you do find a tick? If it hasn't bitten yet, simply remove it with your fingers. But if it has already attached, remove it gently, but firmly with tweezers and then thoroughly clean the area with soap. And don't freak out; it takes about 24 hours for an attached tick to pass on Lyme disease to its host. So as long as you get it off within a few hours of hiking, you should be OK. But do have the bite site checked out if you develop a rash or any of the flu-like symptoms of Lyme disease.