With summer in full swing throughout the United States most people are thinking of sunshine, swimming and backyard barbecues. But this year there is also something else you should be thinking about; bugs. Due to the unusually warm winter and the wet early spring in places like the Midwest and Northeast throughout most of the country bugs such as mosquitoes and ticks will be prevalent this year and you need to keep your family safe.
It has been reported by media outlets and public health officials that the tick population especially will be reaching record highs this year. For Illinois (Me!) and other areas of the Midwest this is expected to be the worst tick season on record. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cases of Lyme disease have tripled since the 1990’s and the Chicago Tribune cites that some labs are already reporting double the number of positive cases this year.
Not only is Lyme disease a concern, but last week it was reported that an Indiana girl may have died from Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, a tick-born illness, and experts expect to see increased cases of Powassan, a rarer tick-born illness that is said to transmit in less time (think minutes) than Lyme disease. It is spread by Deer Ticks now, which before had not been known to carry the disease. There have only been 75 cases reported in the last 10 years.
So, what can you do to keep your family, especially your kids? Here are a few tips we’ve pulled together from various sources to help you stay safe this summer.
Wear long sleeves and pants when in wooded areas
Many of you may say that summer is a time for T-shirts and short sleeves but this is one of the easiest ways to protect yourselves from bites, especially from ticks. If you’re camping or just spending the day hiking this is something to keep in mind. It’s also one of the easiest and most natural ways to prevent bites.
Stay in the center of the path
No beautiful photographs in tall grass fields this summer. According to the CDC, staying in the middle of a path when hiking or in a field will help to prevent tick bites. Since they tend to live on grasses, being aware of your surroundings can help.
Use bug spray with DEET on your skin
I know a lot of people are incredibly hesitant to slathering anything on their kids’ skin – think sunscreen versus cancer debate – but the CDC recommends this to protect against ticks. They recommend products with 20 percent or more DEET to protect kids and adults for several hours. The American Academy of Pediatrics through healthychildren.org recommends that products for children shouldn’t contain more than 30 percent DEET and does not recommend using the products on children younger than 2 months.
The AAP also advises against using products that combine sunscreen and DEET because the DEET may make the SPF less effective. However, you can layer the products and the CDC recommends you apply sunscreen first and then insect repellent.
Healthychildren.org has an amazing chart that shows various types of repellents, including essential oils, here. Take a look and save it!
Use products with Permethrin to protect outdoor clothing or camping gear
If you plan to go camping or it you are a family that likes to hike together. These products can be sprayed on your sleeping bags, tents and boots. Full disclosure, I’m not really a camping sort of girl but this might be something I end up using on gardening shoes.
Check your clothing for ticks
You can carry ticks into your house on your clothing. While they aren’t like fleas you can still risk other people in your home getting bitten if you snuggle a kid after being outside. If you’re playing outside just take a look when you come in. If you’re actively doing something outside, like hiking or gardening, you may want to strip down and throw everything in the wash. Confession: I totally did this today after gardening. I also made the kids do the same.
Wash clothing in hot water
Any clothing that was worn outside should be washed in hot water and the CDC recommends during on high heat for at least 10 minutes. The dyer kills everything. See my other bug problem from this past fall.
Check your body and their’s
Ticks like warm places to cozy up and sink in. When outside they live in warm, moist places so it makes sense that they look for these same places on you. The CDC recommends checking the following places:
- In and around ears
- Inside the belly button
- In and around the hairline. (So HARD with long hair!)
- Between the legs
- Around the waist area
Other sites have also suggested that you look between their toes, specifically if they are barefoot a lot outside or wearing sandals.
Shower/bathe ASAP after being outdoors
We don’t bathe our kids everyday. (#honestmotherhood) My kids have dry skin/eczema and the bath tub seems to make it worse, but on days where we spend time outside playing – like today – baths are necessary to get the dirt off and double as a check for any unwanted, parasitic hitch hikers. This is also a good time to double check their hair. I’m planning to use the lice comb to check.
Make sure you protect your pets
Just as you can bring ticks in on your clothing, one can hitch a ride in on the back of your furbaby too. Make sure you are using preventative measures for them such as collars, shampoos and spot treatments. And, make sure you remember the date to reapply any of these this year. I’m notoriously bad about this.
Don’t forget your backyard
You can put chemical treatments on your yard that the CDC says will reduce tick population from 68-100 percent. Also, clear any old vegetation, such as dead leaves and grasses.
For more information on tick prevention and how to remove ticks, see the CDC’s website here. All of the AAP recommendations can be found here. Good luck this summer, friends. May the DEET be with you.