It’s difficult to imagine that a week at summer camp or a day spent in the garden could expose you or your loved ones to a vector-borne disease that can have potentially long-lasting and chronic effects on your health.
But that’s exactly what’s at stake, especially if you live in higher risk parts of the country such as the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest, where humidity levels are higher, said Dr. Samuel Shor, past president of International Lyme & Associated Diseases Society and a clinical associate professor at George Washington University.
“If not caught early, Lyme [disease] can have lasting effects on the brain and nervous system and potentially lead to cognitive impairment,” Shor said.
Lyme disease is transmitted through deer ticks, which carry the bacteria responsible for Lyme, explained Dr. Luis Marcos, an infectious disease specialist at Stony Brook Medicine, which is located in New York’s Suffolk County at the epicenter of tick-borne diseases. Lyme also happens to be one of the most common vector-borne diseases in the United States.
“Lyme disease is a growing problem for Suffolk County, with around 600-700 cases every year. Tick can [also] be active year-round,” Marcos told HuffPost.
The American Camp Association, a community of camp professionals focused on enriching the lives of children through camp, estimates that 25% of all Lyme disease diagnoses in the country are kids, and that children in the summer camp-appropriate age range of 5-14 years old are considered a particularly high-risk group. It’s such a concern, in fact, that the ACA created checklists and codes of conduct to prevent tick bite exposure in summer camp settings.
Prevention is a good place to start when it comes to protecting yourself from ticks and Lyme, and according to Dorothy Lelandvice president of LymeDisease.org and co-author of the book, “When Your Child Has Lyme Disease: A Parent’s Survival Guide,” there are several repelling tools in the form of sprays, topicals and clothing that can reduce the chances of a tick bite outdoors.
“You should apply bug repellent to exposed skin. Studies show that repellents with DEET, picaridin or lemon eucalyptus oil are the most effective against ticks,” Leland said.
Shor said DEET should be a first-in-line choice for tick repellent; however, if you are skin-sensitive to DEET, picaridin is a natural alternative that is most commonly effective against mosquitoes and can be a sufficient substitute.
“It’s important to be proactive about the kinds of clothing you wear,” he added. “Stick to light-colored clothing because it can make it easier to spot a tick and tuck pant legs into socks and shirts into the waistband of your pants to prevent ticks from crawling under clothing.”
Leland said that you can also treat your clothing, shoes and gear with a spray that contains 0.5% permethrin, a synthetic insecticide, which can offer protection for up to five to six washes.
“You can [also] purchase clothing that has been pre-treated with permethrin and the protection lasts through 70 washings,” she said.
“If there’s one piece of information that I would want to impart,” Shor said, “it is that you need to be aware of your surroundings. We know that ticks like tall grass and heavily left areas. We also know that one of the most high-risk environments for tick exposure is when people are gardening.”
You can be proactive on your next outdoor venture or send your camper away with some precautionary items from following list. Find kid-safe repellents and clothing items that have been certified by the Environmental Protection Agency as safe and effective measures to repel insects, including ticks.
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