The leaves are finally out, the songbirds are back, people are out walking in the mornings and the garden shops and farmer’s markets are open again. But along with the beauty of spring comes a danger that keeps many people from walking the trails, and should give others pause. Deer ticks, the common carrier of borrelia bacteria which causes Lyme disease, abound in May and June in the Northeast, and now is the most common time for bites from infected nymph stage ticks because of their small size. I once had Lyme disease, which took nearly a year to recover from. I consider myself lucky not to have ongoing symptoms like my neighbor suffers with. Every time I step outside I consider the risk of getting a tick bite. But it doesn’t stop me from going out, it just makes me more cautious, and has inspired me to try out different methods for prevention.
Prevention is the best method. Here are my top five tips to prevent deer tick bites, based on what has worked for me. The vigilant use of these methods seems to have effectively eliminated tick bites for myself and my family.
1) Garlic. I take garlic in the morning during tick season. I even use a powdered form for my horse and the number of ticks I find on him has decreased significantly. I used to find several ticks per day, and now I find several per week. For me, I find that fresh garlic works best. I make a dressing in the morning out of yogurt, lemon juice, 1 clove fresh garlic and salt, and put it on my scrambled eggs. If I have to meet with clients in the morning and am worried about the garlic smell, I take Kyolic aged garlic capsules instead. I also read once that garlic breath is caused by ‘missing’ some of the garlic when you brush, so after eating it I floss, brush and use a tongue scraper to get the smell out.
2) Cats and Dogs. Studies show pet owners are more at risk for tick bites and contracting infectious tick borne diseases. As soon as my cat comes back with his first tick of the spring, I move him outdoors, since he is extremely unhappy being locked indoors all summer. I know it sounds a bit harsh, but I can’t risk my family’s health for my cat’s comfort. I have a vestibule where he can come in for shelter from the wind and rain, and I put food and water out and a bed. I have not found any full-proof way of keeping ticks off of him. Even the harsh chemicals that keep ticks from actually biting him, don’t stop him from carrying a tick on the end of his hair and dropping it in the house.
3) Use the Dryer: When I come back from a walk, I strip and put my clothes immediately into the dryer on high heat for a full cycle. Studies have shown that ticks can survive washing but that high heat drying will kill them. While this is definitely not a eco-friendly choice, I haven’t yet found an alternative.
4) Repellents: During tick season I use a combination of various products. I am very concerned about the adverse health effects of using DEET or other chemically-based repellents, so have been experimenting with alternatives to find the most effective. If I will be headed outdoors for the day, I use soybean oil after my morning shower as an allover body moisturizer that also helps deter insect bites. Certain essential oils are very effective against ticks and studies show that catnip, rose geranium, and lemon eucalyptus oil are very effective against both ticks and mosquitoes. I sometimes make my own formulas, but since last fall have started using Buzz Away Extreme, which has worked well. Just be aware that while it repels mosquitoes for up to 8 hours, it needs to be reapplied after 2.5 hours for ticks. If headed into the deep woods, I will also spray my shoes, socks, pant legs, hat and hair.
5) Guinea hens. Guinea hens are the best thing I’ve found for keeping our yard clear of ticks. I know everyone can’t do this, so I’ve listed it last. If you live in a rural area, get guinea hens. Since our hens grew up, our tick population has decreased significantly. Our hens roam free, eat ticks and other insects all day, and take care of themselves. The drawback is that they are a bit noisy, so don’t get them if you aren’t used to the sounds of farm animals.
In addition you should do a thorough tick check every night. Check behind ears, back of head and neck, armpits and groin area. Set up a full length mirror in the bathroom, provide bright lighting and check your backside.
Many thanks to Gina Mikel for the use of her tick illustration: http://www.scientificillustrator.com
THIS WEEKEND: Sign up now for a special Katonah Green and Beyond Meetup Event: Forage for Wild Edibles with Wildman Steve Brill, Sunday, May 24th, 10 AM.! And don’t forget your tick bite prevention tips for this outing in the woods and fields of John Jay Homestead.