Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne illness and the fifth most commonly reported notifiable disease in the United States. While the Zika virus outbreak has been garnering media attention, it is important that families remember to take precautions against Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases in the months ahead as children increase their participation in outdoor activities and prepare for summer camps.
Lyme disease is transmitted by the bite of the black-legged tick, so personal protective measures are aimed at reducing the possibility of a tick attaching to the skin.
Lyme disease is of particular concern in Maryland. In 2014, 1,373 cases of the disease were reported and of those, 60 percent were from six counties — Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery, Anne Arundel, Hartford and Frederick.
Cases of Lyme disease peak in the months of June and July, and while boys age 5 to 9 years are most commonly affected, it can affect any individual engaged in outdoor activities. Hence, continued vigilance to prevent tick bites is essential.
There are many ways to protect against tick bites. Because ticks are often found in wooded or brushy areas, avoiding these areas and walking in the center of trails can reduce the chance of acquiring ticks. After returning from outdoors, conduct a full-body tick check to remove any ticks that may be crawling on you or attached.
Because ticks like to hide between skin folds and creases as well as under the hair, it is important to check these areas well. Additionally, showering within two hours of being outdoors will help wash off ticks and make them more easily detected and removed.
Finally, a recent study in the journal "Ticks & Tick-borne Diseases" found that drying clothing for six minutes on high heat will kill all blacklegged ticks, which transmit Lyme disease. This measure can be effectively used on clothing that are not soiled. If clothing is soiled and requires an initial washing, then clothing should be washed with hot water, if possible, then dried for 60 minutes on high heat to ensure that ticks are killed.
A variety of repellents are very effective in preventing both tick and mosquito bites. Repellents that contain 20-30 percent DEET are commonly recommended and can be applied to exposed skin and clothing. Effective alternatives include oil of lemon eucalyptus, picaridin and IR3535.
Another useful approach is to treat clothing with 0.5 percent permethrin, which effectively repels ticks and mosquitoes and lasts for many washes. Pre-treated clothing can be purchased at outdoor stores, or people can buy permethrin to treat their own clothes. Make sure to read and follow the package instructions when applying all of these repellents.
If you do become infected and notice the characteristic "bull's-eye" rash observed in approximately 80 percent of cases or experience flu-like symptoms after being in tick habitat, see your health care provider promptly.
These simple protective measures will help reduce the risk of tick-born diseases, avoid missed days from school and work and ensure a safe summer.
Reena Rambharat, Baltimore
The writer is a student in the master's degree in public health program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.