What to do to prevent a tick bite

    In tick-infested areas, the best precaution against ticks is to avoid contact with soil, leaf litter and vegetation as much as possible. However, if you garden, hike, camp, hunt, work outdoors or otherwise spend time in woods, brush or overgrown fields, you should use a combination of precautions to dramatically reduce your chances of getting tick borne diseases:

* Tick Checks: A shower and shampoo may help to dislodge crawling ticks, but is only somewhat effective. Inspect yourself and your children carefully after a shower. Keep in mind that nymphal deer ticks are the size of poppy seeds; adult deer ticks are the size of sesame seeds.  Any contact with vegetation, even playing in the yard, can result in exposure to ticks, so careful daily self-inspection is necessary whenever you engage in outdoor activities and the temperature exceeds 40 degrees F (the temperature above which deer ticks are active). Frequent tick checks should be followed by a systematic, whole-body examination each night before going to bed. Performed consistently, this ritual is perhaps the single most effective current method for prevention of tick borne illnesses.   

* Burn. In the past farmers used to burn their fields every winter. But, Shelter Island is now suburban in character, and burning for the average homeowner is not always a viable option. However, some property owners who are capable and well versed in how to burn their open areas should probably try to do so to get rid of the ticks.  Timing is important so be sure you burn prior to the middle of April so you don’t destroy new growth. Also important is to collect all debris and leaves under shrubs and trees and to dispose of it, preferably through burning. Any yard fires require a permit, which can be obtained from the Fire Department through the Town Clerk.  Observe the instructions that come with it, including having an active hose within reach and personally attending the fire until it is thoroughly extinguished.

* Permethrin covered clothes are recommended for anyone who is outside working near grass, lawns, or gardens. Orvis carries a complete line of such clothing called “Buzz Off”. You can also spray Permethrin, which can be obtained from Agway without a permit or license, on your clothing. If you will be walking through grass or woods, wear enclosed shoes and light colored clothing that covers your entire body, pants tucked into your socks, and check clothing and your body for ticks as soon as you can. Spinning clothes in a hot dryer for twenty minutes will rid them of any live ticks.

* Use insect repellant containing DEET (Diethyl-meta-toluamide) on skin or clothes if you intend to go off-trail or into overgrown areas. Only DEET can be used on exposed skin, but never in high concentrations; follow the manufacturer’s directions and use if you are going to expose yourself to the natural habitat of ticks. (check with your pediatrician before applying directly on your children’s skin).  Whether or not you wear protective clothing or apply DEET, it is critical that you check your body.

* It is important to use Frontline or a similar product on your dogs and the appropriate product on your cats to kill the ticks that get on them. Their bodies should also be checked several times a day for ticks. You may not want to allow your pets outside unless they are carefully supervised. You will have to consider the wisdom of allowing your pets to sleep with you or your children.

* Excellent precaution against tick borne diseases is to avoid contact with soil, leaf litter and vegetation as much as possible. Avoid sitting directly on the ground or on stonewalls. Keep long hair tied back, especially when gardening. You can also reduce the tick population around your yard by keeping lawns mowed and edges trimmed, clearing leaf litter and tall grasses, stacking woodpiles neatly in a dry location and preferably off the ground, and clearing all leaf litter (including the remains of perennials) out of the garden in the fall.

* Some property owners hire landscapers to spray their yards. It is expensive and requires monthly treatments. The chemical of choice is Permethrin. Insecticides kill not just ticks, but all insects, including desirable ones such as butterflies and ladybugs.

* Do not feed the deer. First, it is against the law in New York State. Second, it encourages deer to be on your property, dropping the ticks that congregate on their heads and shoulder onto your lawns, woods and gardens.