The best way to prevent tickborne diseases is to prevent tick bites. In Vermont, most tickborne illnesses occur between the early spring and late fall - the time of year when blacklegged ticks are active.
Limiting your exposure to ticks, using an effective repellent and checking your body for ticks are just some of the ways you can decrease the risk of contracting a tickborne disease.
Ticks can live in a variety of habitats, but they prefer wooded and bushy areas with high grass, brush and leaf litter. If you enter an area where ticks are likely to live, try to avoid direct contact with the surrounding vegetation. For instance, if you are hiking stay in the center of the trail where the grass is low and the underbrush is cut back.
Ticks attach to a host, such as a human or animal, by positioning themselves at the tip of a blade of grass or on the edge of a leaf low to the ground. Here they wait with their front legs stretched out. Once a host walks past and brushes up against the vegetation where the tick is waiting, they use their outstretched legs to latch on to skin, clothing, or hair.
Ticks do not jump onto their hosts like fleas. They also do not drop down onto their hosts from leaves high above in trees.
- Cover up your skin by wearing pants, long sleeves, and long socks. Tucking your pant legs into your socks and tucking your shirt into your pants can help keep ticks on off of your skin.
- Apply an insect repellent that contains 20-30% DEET on exposed skin and clothing. Do not spray repellent on skin that is covered by clothing.
- Apply permethrin to your clothes. Permethrin kills ticks on contact and remains protective through several washings. Do not use permethrin on skin.
- Make sure the repellent you use is registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Click here to access an EPA tool for finding repellents.
- Remove ticks from your clothes before going indoors.
- Put your clothes in the dryer on high heat for 10 minutes. The heat and dry conditions can kill blacklegged ticks.
- Check your body and your child’s body after being outdoors. Use a mirror to look at all parts of your body (armpits, behind ears, groin, etc.) and remove any ticks you find.
- Shower soon after you come inside.
Remove the tick as soon as you discover it. Removing a tick right away can help prevent tickborne diseases.
Follow the steps below to safely remove ticks from animals and humans.
- Use fine-tipped tweezers, or one of the many available tick removal tools. Firmly grasp the tick close to the skin. Avoid touching the tick with your bare hands.
- With a steady motion, pull straight up until all parts of the tick are removed. Do not twist or jerk the tick. Do not be alarmed if the tick's mouthparts remain in the skin.
- 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. Never crush a tick with your fingers.
- Wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based sanitizer if soap and water are not available. Clean the tick bite with soap and water or use an antiseptic such as iodine scrub or rubbing alcohol.
Watch this video on proper tick removal created by the New York State Department of Health
Symptoms may begin as soon as three days after a tick bite, but can appear as long as 30 days after.
Contact your health care provider if you develop a fever, headache, joint pain, muscle aches, fatigue or a rash soon after a tick bite.
Generally, infectious disease experts do not recommend the routine use of antibiotics following a tick bite as a way to prevent Lyme disease Health care providers might offer patients a single dose of antibiotics after a tick bite when the following conditions are met:
- The tick can be identified as a nyphmal or adult blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis),
- The tick has been attached for 36 hours or more,
- The antibiotic can be given within 72 hours of tick removal,
- Antibiotics are not contraindicated, and
- Lyme disease is common in the area where the tick bite occurred. If you believe you picked up the tick anywhere in Vermont or neighboring states, this condition would be met.
Some people are interested in having ticks that they removed from themselves or loved ones tested for various tickborne diseases. The Vermont Department of Health does not recommend tick testing under these circumstances for the following reasons:
- You may not have been infected. Even if a tick is infected and tests positive, it may not have transmitted the infection to you. Ticks generally need to be attached to a human for at least 36 hours in order to transmit Lyme disease.
- It might delay treatment. Tick test results take several days and may not be available in time to make a prompt treatment decision to prevent Lyme disease.
- You may have other tick bites that you don't know about. Most people who are infected with Lyme disease do not recall a tick bite. Therefore, if someone were to develop symptoms of Lyme disease there would be no way to know whether the infection was from a known tick bite or another unknown tick bite. For example, if a tick is tested and the result is negative, you could still have been bitten by another infected tick, not know it, and develop symptoms of Lyme disease.
- Tests performed on ticks are not always perfect. All laboratory tests have the possibility of false positive or false negative results. Even with a negative result, people should still monitor themselves for the appearance of a rash, fever, and other flu-like symptoms. If any of these symptoms occur, you should contact your health care provider.
Some private laboratories offer tick testing, but the Vermont Department of Health and Vermont Agency of Agriculture do not collect ticks from the public and test them for tickborne diseases.
Do not use petroleum jelly, a hot match, nail polish, or any other products to remove a tick. These methods are not effective.
The best way to protect yourself is to know the facts about tickborne diseases in Vermont. The Health Department website provides evidence-based information on these important issues. If you would like to order printed materials please follow this link.