THE SUREST WAY TO avoid Lyme disease is to minimize possible exposure to deer ticks. From late spring to late fall, don't let your pet run in tall grasses and undergrowth or in wooded areas, particularly in areas frequented by deer. Keep grasses in back yards cut and eliminate anything -- woodpiles, overgrown shrubbery -- that might attract the white-footed mouse.
Brush your pet frequently and check for deer ticks daily, particularly around the face and neck area since deer ticks tend to climb upward. Since spotting a tiny deer tick in animal fur is extremely difficult, the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association also recommends using a reputable tick repellent.
Read labels carefully and follow directions for use on all dips, powders, collars and sprays. Problems can develop if overused or misused. Your vet can recommend the best and safest products on the market and help you develop a tick control plan for your animal.
If you find a deer tick embedded in yourself or your pet, don't panic. Not all deer ticks are infected with the spirochetes that cause Lyme. But, don't be lulled into thinking that you have at least 12 hours to remove ticks because it takes that long for the spirochetes to transfer from the tick to the host. As Dr. Willy Burgdorfer of Rocky Mountain Laboratories says, "The quicker you get the tick off, the better."
Following is advice on the removal of ticks and treatment procedures:
1. Forget all the old folklore about using petroleum jelly, butter, kerosene, fingernail polish or lighted matches to "back out" a tick. They don't work and they may increase the chances of infection.
2. Using tweezers, not your fingers, grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull upward with a steady, even pressure. Don't twist, squeeze, squash or jerk the tick. If the mouthpiece is left in, remove it with the tweezers.
3. Apply an antiseptic to the bite area.
4. Place the deer tick in alcohol to preserve it for identification. Note the date of removal on a calendar.
5. Wash hands thoroughly with soap and water.
6. Because prompt treatment is so important and usually effective in Lyme disease, some experts advise contacting your doctor or vet when you discover an embedded deer tick. Others say to be alert to symptoms, particularly during the first 32 days after the bite, and to call a health-care professional at the first sign of problems.
If you have other questions or concerns about Lyme disease, call your doctor or veterinarian or contact your local public health department, or county extension agent. The Centers for Disease Control provides a Lyme disease hot line at (404) 332-4555.