How to Prevent Tick Bites and Avoid Lyme Disease This Summer

In the U.S. alone, approximately 400,000 people annually are diagnosed with Lyme disease — an oftentimes debilitating disease that can bring on years of musculoskeletal, neurological, cardiovascular, and gastrointestinal symptoms if left untreated. Untreated Lyme disease can spread throughout the body and damage the joints, muscles, brain, nerves, and heart. 

Though an erythema migrans (EM) rash is a specific symptom of Lyme disease — prompting people to seek treatment — less than 50 percent of Lyme patients develop a red bull’s eye rash after being bitten by an infected tick. Without the presence of a rash, many tick-borne infections go undiagnosed and untreated — allowing the disease to progress from early to late-stage Lyme. 

What’s most concerning; however, is that only about 22 percent of Lyme patients test positive for Lyme disease according to CDC standards. So while about 400,000 people may be diagnosed with Lyme annually, well over a million people may actually contract Lyme each year. But because these patients are not testing positive as per CDC criteria, they’re not receiving treatment. 

This is why tick bite prevention is so crucial. Protecting yourself, your kids, and your pets from ticks is the best way to prevent Lyme disease and other vector-borne infections. 

In honor of Lyme Disease Awareness Month, let’s look at what you can do to prevent tick bites and mitigate your Lyme risk this summer. 

Lyme disease: what to know about Borrelia burgdorferi

Formally known as Borrelia burgdorferi, Lyme is a bacterial infection transmitted by disease-carrying Eastern black-legged ticks (Ixodes scapularis) and Western black-legged ticks (Ixodes pacificus). Black-legged ticks are more commonly known as deer ticks, as they feed on the blood of Lyme-carrying animals such as white-tailed deer (their preferred host) and spread the disease to humans via tick bites. Squirrels, rabbits, mice, birds, lizards, and other animals can also carry Borrelia Lyme disease. 

While infected ticks have a greater chance of transmitting Lyme disease to humans when attached to the skin for more than 36 hours, there’s less of a chance if the tick is removed within the first 24 hours. As such, removing a tick as quickly as possible and seeking immediate treatment for Lyme can significantly reduce the risk of contracting Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections.

A note on Lyme disease transmission

As a vector-borne disease, Lyme is also transmitted via other vectors such as mosquitos, fleas, lice, and flies. If you develop a rash or symptoms after being bitten by any type of bug or insect, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention.

has found Lyme disease can be transmitted sexually, congenitally (in utero), and through breast milk as well. Fortunately, it’s possible to safely treat Lyme during pregnancy to protect both mom and baby from tick-borne disease. 

we’ll look at how to prevent tick bites to mitigate your risk of Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections.

Tick and Lyme disease prevention tips

Infected ticks can be found in all U.S. states and nearly anywhere in the world, particularly in wooded, grassy, or humid areas that harbor Lyme-carrying animals. Common tick habitats include:

  • Wooded areas.
  • Grassy fields.
  • Tall grasses.
  • Parks.
  • Picnic areas.
  • Leaf piles.
  • Wood piles.
  • Low-hanging branches and overgrown shrubs. 
  • Bird feeders. 

    That said, preventing Lyme disease doesn’t mean you can’t spend time outdoors when ticks are most active (from about April through September). Let’s look at what you can do to tickproof your yard, prevent tick bites, and reduce your risk of contracting Lyme disease. 

    Tickproofing your yard

    The first step toward preventing tick bites this Lyme Awareness Month is tickproofing your yard. Keep the grass short; prune overgrown trees, branches, and shrubs; and clear away piles of leaves, wood, fallen branches, and litter. Removing bird feeders, bird baths, and moisture-retaining stone walls can also help reduce tick habitats. 

    Thermacell’s Tick Control Tubes are another great option to consider. These “tick traps” repel ticks and reduce your risk of contracting Lyme disease around your home — especially if you place them in areas that tend to attract mice (e.g. wood piles, wooded areas, flower beds, and rock walls). 

    Each biodegradable Tick Control Tube is treated with permethrin, an insecticide that can be applied to shoes, clothing, socks, tents, and other outdoor gear as well. Permethrin shouldn’t be applied to bare skin, however.

    Protecting yourself from tick bites

    To treat the skin directly before heading outdoors during tick season, picaridin or essential oils like lemon eucalyptus and citronella are skin-safe alternatives to permethrin. We also recommend covering the skin with well-fitting shoes, pants, long socks, and long-sleeved shirts to reduce the risk of being bitten. 

    After spending time outdoors during tick season, the CDC recommends tumble-drying your clothing on high heat for at least 10 minutes and showering within two hours. This is also a good time to check yourself, your kiddos, and your pets for ticks. 

    A few places to look for ticks include:

    • Behind or in the ears.
    • Under the arms.
    • Between the legs and behind the knees. 
    • Around the waist and inside the belly button. 
    • On the scalp and in the hair.
    • For dogs, check behind the tail, under the collar, between the toes, and around the eyelids. 

    If you happen to find a tick on you or someone else, follow these tick removal instructions from IGeneX. You’ll need fine-tipped tweezers to carefully remove the tick from the skin and rubbing alcohol or soap and water to clean the site of the bite afterward.

    Testing the tick for Lyme disease and other infections

    After removing the tick from yourself or your loved one, use this guide from IGeneX to identify the tick and the specific types of diseases it could be carrying. Then, to determine your risk of infection, place the tick in a sealed plastic bag or small tube and submit it to IGeneX or TickCheck™ for testing. 

    The average turnaround time for TickCheck™ testing is about two to three business days, while IGeneX processes results within seven to 10 business days. Ticks can be submitted for testing regardless of whether they’re alive, dead, or fully intact. 

    Diagnosing and treating Lyme

    The earlier you seek Lyme disease treatment and testing after being bitten by a tick, the lower your risk of developing Lyme, experiencing long-term or chronic Lyme symptoms, and progressing to the later stages of the disease. Antibiotics can typically treat Lyme disease if therapy is started early on, while late-stage and chronic Lyme may require years of antibiotic and herbal therapies. 

    Time is of the essence, so don’t hesitate to book an appointment with a Lyme-literate functional medicine practitioner like Kate O’Connor. At Optimal Health & Wellness, we offer Lyme and tick-borne disease testing through leading labs such as IGeneX and Vibrant Wellness. Our preferred tests include:

    • IGeneX Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Testing. Multiple IGeneX tests are available, and covered by insurance most insurance. 
    • Vibrant Wellness TickBorne 2.0. This tick-borne disease panel is not covered by insurance. 

    As Lyme-literate functional medicine practitioners, we also offer a variety of Lyme treatments tailored to your individual needs. We offer advanced diagnostics, personalized treatment plans, and integrative therapies to address your unique root causes. Book an appointment today to transform your health!

    Ready to transform yourself from the inside out? Contact us to learn more about our approach to wellness or book a free 15-minute consultation to discuss your unique health goals with our team. We look forward to helping you achieve optimal health and wellness!