Ticks. They are a constant problem here in New England and especially here on Cape Cod. As the carriers of Lyme disease, Babesiosis and many other infections, ticks are nasty little things that unfortunately require a certain amount of vigilance, particularly if you are a pet owner. One of the most common ways for a tick to find its way on to a human is from a pet. There is a lot of conflicting information out there about best practices when it comes to ticks and Lyme disease. Here’s some basic information on tick season and what to do to protect yourself and your pet.
TIS THE SEASON
The life cycle of deer ticks varies throughout the year and certain months are much worse than others. Most transmissions of Lyme disease occur from May to July, when the nymphal stage deer ticks are out.
PREVENTATIVE TREATMENTS FOR YOUR PETS
For dog and cat owners on Cape Cod, checking your pets and yourself for ticks is common practice. Most of us also treat our animals with a topical treatment such as Frontline or Advantix. The treatments must be repeated monthly and should be avoided by pregnant women and kids. If you are visiting from a tick-free area, a tick collar such as Seresto or Preventic may be a good short-term option. The website TickEncouter.org has a great infographic comparing different preventive options for your pet. There is a Lyme vaccine for dogs that is recommended if you live in the Northeast U.S.
TICK REPELLANT CLOTHING AND SPRAYS
Permethrin is an invisible, odorless, EPA approved insecticide that kills ticks on contact. Treated clothing is available from brands like REI and L.L. Bean. There are also ways to treat your clothing yourself.
The key here is vigilance. Always do a tick check when you get in from being outside. Ticks are found everywhere on Cape Cod, from the dunes on the beach to the deep woods of Nickerson State Park. A good practice is to put your clothes in a dryer for 20 minutes after a walk/hike. The heat of the dryer will kill any ticks that happen to have made their way on to your clothes.
If you find a tick attached to your skin, the key is to just GET. IT. OFF. As fast as you can. A tick must be attached for a lengthy amount of time (at least 24 hours) to transmit Lyme to humans. The best way? Really any way that gets the tick off your body! Get a good grip and pull hard and fast. Sometimes a piece may be left behind¾generally not a problem. A common misconception is that if the head of the tick is left behind, any diseases can still be passed on. False. If the tick is ripped, it’s dead. End of story.
The Laboratory of Medical Zoology at UMASS Amherst offers a testing service. Basically, you save your tick, mail it to a lab and have it tested for the full panel of bacteria and diseases so that you can know the likelihood that you could get infected. It can be done online and it’s super easy. All you have to do is mail in the tick. There is a fee. An added perk is that your information is added to a growing body of research on infection patterns and tick occurrences.
TickEncounter.org – Run by the University of Rhode Island, this comprehensive website has anything and everything you’d ever want to know about ticks, treatment, prevention, and more.