My family spends a great deal of time outside. We run through the woods, we play in the gardens; we dig holes and look for worms. Not much has changed in the analog version of childhood fun since I was a kid.
Except for ticks.
At the end of everyday, as the kids barrel their way through the front door to get cleaned up for supper, is tick check time. Shirts and socks, pants and underwear litter the floor as Mom and Dad examine every nook and cranny of the kids to make sure that one of those nasty little destroyers of fun haven’t embedded themselves into an arm or leg.
I had thought that I was doing a fine job of keeping my kids clear of ticks until I missed one recently. My four year-old went to bed one night with a flat deer tick quietly attaching itself to the back of his head. We don’t know how long it had been there. A day? Maybe two?
By the time we found the tick it was the size of a pea. My husband used a tick puller to carefully extract it from my son’s head. We sealed it in a jar and wrote the date on the lid. Then we called the pediatrician.
As a precaution our family doctor prescribed a 20-day round of antibiotics to kill off any potential Lyme disease infection. Although we know that only half of all cases present with red target circles, we keep checking to see if the bite site has any signs of redness. We were also told to look for flu-like symptoms or swollen joints.
11 days into the precautionary treatment, my son began to show signs of flu-like symptoms. Let the internal Mom panic ensue.
While we are treating my son and waiting for him to be tested for Lyme disease we have been continuing with a few conservative steps toward keeping deer ticks at bay. Who knows, perhaps none of these steps work; we did find a tick on our child, after all.
In any case, this is what precaution looks like at our house:
1) We researched what deer ticks look like, where they live, how they move, what they are attracted to and what – if anything – eats them.
2) Guiney Hens eat ticks. Lots of them. Guess what? We are buying Guiney hens.
3) We keep our lawn mown regularly. This is supposed to cut down on the chance of ticks being near the house.
4) After spending time in the woods we immediately toss our clothes in the dryer for 10-15 minutes to kill off any potential hitchhikers.
5) We check our pets every day. Since ticks are more likely to be on the dogs than us we look over their coats every evening.
6) We use tick and flea repellant on our pets. They are not 100% and so we continue with the daily tick checks.
7) When we find a tick embedded on one of us, we don’t burn, scrape, or yank on it. We use a proper tick puller that we bought at the grocery store for $1.99.
8) If we find a roaming tick in the house we take a piece of Scotch tape and pick the tick up by sticking it to the tape. Then we fold the tape over the tick so that it is stuck forever and then toss it in the trash.
9) I vacuum everyday. I do this regardless of the threat of ticks. And when I wash the floors and woodwork, I use a scent-free cleaner and I add drops of peppermint or rosemary oil. The strong scent is nice in my house, but it also supposedly repels ticks and fleas.
It would be great – fabulous, even – if a safe and effective vaccine for human use could be available to prevent Lyme disease. Ticks are tiny. But the ticks that have the highest probability of infecting a person or pet with Lyme disease are the poppy seed sized nymphs that are difficult to spot because they bite and fall off quicker than the adults do.
For more information – from a reliable non-Mom bloggy source – check out this site.