Prevent tick-borne diseases while enjoying the outdoors

Submitted Photo Ticks often gain access through pant legs or shirttails and crawl up looking for a place to settle in and feed. Photo from Scott Bauer, USDA ARS, Bugwood.org.

You’ve grabbed your water bottle, sunscreen and hat for a hike in the park or some gardening. Add a bit of tick protection to your must-have items when you head out the door for an adventure, to garden or play.

Continue enjoying the outdoors by enlisting a variety of strategies to limit your risk of exposure to ticks and the disease pathogens they transmit. Here are just a few of the ways to increase your safety and enjoyment.

Wear light-colored clothing to more easily spot the tick before it moves onto your skin. Wear long pants and tuck them into your socks and tuck your shirt into your pants. Ticks often gain access through pant legs or shirttails and crawl up looking for a place to settle in and feed.

Consider spraying your clothing with an insecticide labeled for repelling and killing ticks. Spray your clothing and let it dry before wearing. Or invest in pre-treated clothing for gardening, hiking or other outdoor activities. Read and follow label directions carefully.

Always conduct a tick check on yourself, children and pets after spending time outdoors. Studies show that regular tick checks are the most effective way to prevent diseases transmitted by ticks. Ticks can feed anywhere but are often found in and around the ears and hair, inside the bellybutton, under the arms, around the waist, back of the knees and between the legs.

Check your clothing inside and out. Ticks can survive for several days in the house and even when washed in warm or hot water. An hour in the dryer on high heat will kill them.

Shower within two hours after spending time outdoors. The water can help dislodge any unattached ticks plus this provides a second opportunity to conduct a tick check. Studies found this practice greatly reduces the risk of tick-borne diseases.

Manage your landscape to reduce the tick population. Keep the grass mowed and remove brush, groundcovers, firewood piles and birdfeeders near the home or where the family frequents. Keep swing sets away from the woods and placed on woodchip mulch. Eliminate invasive barberry, honeysuckle and buckthorn that create a tick-friendly habitat.

Many of us are doing the opposite. We are eliminating lawns, increasing groundcover, planting more trees, shrubs and flowers to create more diverse wildlife-friendly habitats. There is limited evidence that increasing animal diversity may help reduce the rate of tick associated diseases.Unfortunately, the fragmented woodlands and ecosystems do favor deer and white-footed mice that are key to the maintenance and transmission of tick-borne diseases.

Consider creating a tick safe zone area where your family frequents and limit your time in tick infested areas. Widen pathways, prune trees to increase light, exclude deer and discourage rodents to reduce the risk of exposure.

And if additional control is needed to create a tick safe zone, consider using a pesticide like Summit Tick & Flea Spray that contains permethrin. You’ll only need small amounts at the right time of the year for effective control. One application in spring or fall is usually sufficient for managing the ticks that can transmit Lyme disease. For the dog tick, also known as wood ticks, an application can be made anytime after the adults emerge. As always read and follow label directions.

Make these practices part of your routine so you and your family can continue to safely enjoy all your favorite outdoor activities.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series and the nationally-syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Myers’s web site is www.melindamyers.com.

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