The keys to reducing the risk of Lyme disease are to:
- Avoid ticks in the areas where you live and work
- Protect yourself from getting a tick on your body
Reduce or Avoid Tick Habitats
Reducing or avoiding tick habitats can reduce your chances of being bitten. To do this:
- Avoid moist, shaded, wooded, or brushy areas.
- When walking in the outdoors, stay on cleared, well-traveled paths, and walk in the center of trails to avoid overgrown grass and brush.
- Avoid sitting on the ground or on stone walls.
- Remove leaf litter, brush, and woodpiles from around your home and the edges of your yard.
- Mow the grass often.
- Discourage animals that carry ticks from coming onto your property.
Wear Proper Clothing
Proper clothing can help protect you from tick bites. When spending time outdoors in areas where there may be ticks, you should:
- Wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt of a light color. Light-colored clothing makes it easier for you to see any ticks that may get on you.
- Tuck shirt into pants and pants into socks. Wear a hat and closed shoes. This makes it more difficult for ticks to get onto your skin.
- Put your clothes in the dryer for about 20 minutes after spending time outdoors. This will kill any unseen ticks.
Use Insect Repellent
Apply insect repellent containing DEET to clothes and exposed skin. Carefully follow directions for use. Insect repellents containing permethrin can be applied to pants, socks, and shoes. Wash the repellent off your skin when you return inside.
Check for and Remove Ticks
The tick usually must be attached to your skin for at least 24-48 hours for the bacteria to get into your bloodstream. To ensure quick removal of any attached ticks you should:
- Do frequent tick checks, including a naked, full body exam when returning from the outdoors. Remember that very young (“larval” or “nymph”) ticks can be very small; some not much bigger than a sesame seed.
If you find any ticks, do the following:
- With fine-point tweezers, grab the tick at the place where it is attached, next to the skin.
- Gently pull the tick straight out.
- Save the tick in a small vial and mark the date.
- Wash your hands and clean the tweezers with alcohol.
- Report the bite to your doctor.
- Watch carefully for any signs of Lyme disease, especially a rash at the site of the bite and/or fever; symptoms usually appear within 30 days of the bite.
Doctors vary in their recommendations concerning taking preventive antibiotics following a tick bite. Antibiotic treatment given within 72 hours of a tick bite has been shown to significantly reduce the likelihood of developing Lyme disease. Treatment is indicated in locations where 20% or more of ticks are known to carry the Lyme bacteria. If bitten by a tick, you should check with your doctor to see if taking an antibiotic is appropriate for you.
A history of Lyme disease, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/lymeDisease/Pages/history.aspx. Updated March 29, 2011. Accessed September 26, 2012.
Lyme disease. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114365/Lyme-disease. Updated August 15, 2016. Accessed October 6, 2016.
Personal protection. Lyme Disease website. Available at: https://www.lymedisease.org/lyme-basics/ticks/personal-protection. Accessed September 26, 2012.
Preventing tick bites. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/prev/index.html. Updated July 26, 2012. Accessed September 26, 2012.
5/28/2010 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillancehttp://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114365/Lyme-disease: Warshafsky S, Lee DH, Francois LK, et al. Efficacy of antibiotic prophylaxis for the prevention of Lyme disease: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis. J Antimicrob Chemother. 2010;65(6):1137-1144.
Last reviewed November 2018 by David L. Horn, MD Last Updated: 12/20/2014