Stop the Bite: Ticks & Mosquitoes
How to Protect You & Your Family from Tick and Mosquito Bites
By Hallie Hudson, PharmD, TTS
Summer is here! So, this means that you may be spending more time outdoors enjoying the warm weather and sunshine. There are a lot of great things about summer, but summer pests, like ticks and mosquitoes, aren’t one of them. So how can we avoid ticks and mosquitoes this summer?
First, let’s talk about preventing tick bites.
It’s important that you know where to expect ticks –ticks live in grassy, brushy, and wooded areas. In addition to these areas, ticks can also live on animals. Activities like camping, gardening, hunting, or even walking your dog can bring you in close contact with ticks.
Ticks like tall grass and plenty of shade, so be sure to mow the lawn, remove leaves, and try to let as much sun into your yard as possible. Putting up a fence around your yard can also help keep deer and large animals that carry ticks out of your yard.
What are some ways you can avoid tick bites?
Wear light-colored clothing – when in wooded or grassy areas, wear light-colored long-pants, long-sleeve shirts, socks and closed-toe shoes to prevent ticks from attaching to the skin. Wearing light-colored clothing will help you spot a tick if it attaches to your clothing.
Apply insect repellent to exposed skin – DEET is the active ingredient in many insect repellents, and it is a good way to deter ticks. It’s recommended that you use a repellent with at least 20% DEET.
Treat clothing with permethrin or purchase pretreated clothing – permethrin-treated clothing will retain repellent through several washes. Repellents used on skin can also be applied to clothing, but they only provide a short duration of protection.
So, what should you do after spending time outdoors?
After you come indoors, check your body and clothing for ticks. You can tumble dry clothing in the dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing after you come in from outdoors. If your clothes require washing, be sure to wash with hot water and then tumble dry in the dryer on high heat. Cold and medium temperature water will NOT kill ticks.
Shower after you have been outdoors. Showering within two hours of coming indoors has been shown to reduce your risk of getting Lyme disease. Showering may help wash off unattached ticks, and it is also a good time to do a skin check for ticks.
Examine pets since ticks can come into your home on your pet and then attach to you or someone in your household later.
What should you do if a tick is attached to you, someone in your family, or your pet?
Use fine-tipped tweezers or a Tick Twister® to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
If using tweezers, pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist the tick – this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal. We carry Tick Twisters® at the pharmacy, which can be used to remove ticks comfortably from you or your pets. They remove the tick without squeezing it, which can help reduce the risk of infection. In addition, Tick Twisters® don’t leave the mouth-parts in the skin.
After removing the tick, clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
Never crush a tick with your fingers. Dispose of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet.
Let your doctor know if you have a tick bite so he or she can decide if you need an antibiotic.
Most tick bites are painless and cause only minor signs and symptoms (like redness, swelling, or soreness). Some ticks can transmit bacteria and cause illnesses, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. In general, to transmit Lyme disease, a tick needs to be attached to the body for at least 36 hours. However, other infections can be transferred in just a few hours or even a few minutes. That is why it’s important to contact your doctor to see if an antibiotic is needed to prevent a potential infection from a tick bite.
You should avoid folklore remedies when removing a tick – do not “paint” the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, and do not use heat to make the tick detach from the skin. It’s important to remove the tick as soon as possible, so do not wait for it to detach.
Now, let’s talk about preventing mosquito bites.
Typically, mosquito bites are only bothersome because they are itchy, but sometimes they can spread viruses that can lead to illness. In North America, mosquito season starts in the summer and continues into the fall. As you may know, mosquitoes bite during the day and night, can live indoors or outdoors, and search for warm places when the temperature starts to drop. Mosquitoes like to hibernate in enclosed spaces like garages or under homes to survive the cold temperatures.
What are some ways to avoid mosquito bites?
Cover up your body – wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants to keep your body covered.
Use air conditioning or window and door screens to help keep mosquitoes from entering your home.
Apply insect repellent. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)- registered insect repellents are proven safe and effective even for pregnant and breast-feeding women. Use an EPA-registered insect repellent with one of the following active ingredients:
Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE)
Try wearing a Z-Band®. Insert a Z-tablet®, which contains all-natural ingredients, into the band and wear the band on your wrist or ankle. The Z-Band® is DEET-free, and it gradually releases its natural bug repelling ingredients to provide a 6-foot-wide zone of protection. You can find Z-Bands® at the pharmacy!
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide us with this important information that we should keep in mind when using insect repellents to deter ticks, mosquitoes, or other pests:
Apply repellents to exposed skin or clothing only and follow the product label instructions.
Do not apply repellents under clothing!
Don’t use repellents on cuts, wounds, or irritated skin.
When using repellent sprays, do not spray directly on the face – spray onto hands first and then apply to the face.
Do not apply repellents to eyes or mouth and apply sparingly around the ears.
Children should not handle repellents - adults should apply repellents to their own hands first, and then apply on the child’s exposed skin (avoid applying directly to children’s hands).
After returning indoors, wash your child’s treated skin and clothing with soap and water.
Heavy application and saturation of repellent are usually unnecessary for effectiveness.
Wash hands after application!
Wash treated clothing before wearing it again.
This precaution may vary with different repellents—check the product label!
It’s important that you do not use insect repellent on infants less than 2 months old. You should not use products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or para-menthane-diol (PMD) on children less than 3 years old.
Stop in the pharmacy today to talk to your pharmacist about the different products available to help deter tick and mosquito bites this summer!
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. We encourage you to discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.