Prevention and Control
By far, the best way to avoid Lyme disease is to be aware of the risk of tick bites and to act accordingly. The good news is that deer ticks usually do not transmit Lyme bacteria until they have been attached for at least 24 hours — up to 48 hours for adult ticks. In addition, even in highly endemic areas, only 40-50% of adult deer ticks may be infected. In a recent study, no more than 3.4% of individuals seen by physicians for deer tick bites who were not treated with antibiotics eventually developed Lyme disease. Diagnosed in its early stages, Lyme disease is easily and effectively treated with oral antibiotics. If Lyme disease is unrecognized and untreated, it may progress to cause arthritis and neurological problems but treatment is still usually effective.
Precautions to Avoid Tick Bites
- Tuck your pant legs into your socks and your shirt into your pants when walking in woods, brush, or tall grass. Deer ticks attach to clothing and then walk upward.
- Wear light-colored clothing so ticks may be seen more easily.
- Use a repellent containing DEET according to label directions -- particularly on shoes, socks, and pant legs. Avoid applying high-concentration products to the skin, especially on children.
- People who must be in areas where ticks are prevalent may pretreat protective clothing with a permethrin-containing product which both repels and kills ticks. Caution: this is not for use on skin; use only as directed on the label.
- To protect pets, consult your veterinarian about tick repellents, acaricides or, in high risk areas, the Lyme vaccine for dogs.
- Inspect yourself, your clothing, your children, your companion, and your pets for ticks when you get in from the field. Ticks often attach in body folds, behind ears and in the hair. If possible, shower and wash clothes immediately. Heat drying is effective in killing ticks.
- Mowing grass and cutting brush in yards may reduce tick habitats in problem areas.
When transporting pets or game, precautions should be taken to avoid bringing ticks into new areas.
Prompt removal of attached ticks is extremely important
The Lyme disease spirochete is rarely transmitted before the tick has been attached for 36 hours. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, preferably with fine tweezers, and pull gently but firmly until the tick lets go. Do not handle ticks with bare hands. Do not squeeze the tick. Apply antiseptic to the bite. Save the tick in a small vial of 70% alcohol. Common tick removal methods, such as scorching the tick with a match, or applying vaseline or nail polish are not recommended because they may cause infected tick body fluids to be expelled into the skin. One recent study showed that a single dose of antibiotic was effective in preventing Lyme disease if given within 72 hours after a deer tick was removed. Consult your physician if you remove an engorged deer tick.
The LYMErix vaccine, which was approved in 1998 by the Food and Drug Administration, for use in adults, is no longer available. GlaxoSmithKline withdrew the LYMErix vaccine from the market in February 2002, citing insufficient demand as the reason for their action.