How to Have a Tick-Free Summer

Family hiking in woodsA family with young children hiking in the woods
Monkey Business Images Ltd/Dreamstime

More than just your average outdoor pests, ticks can carry serious diseases such as Lyme and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Here’s how to keep you and your loved ones safe all summer long.

Long sleeved shirts, long pants, hats, sprays, frequent body checks, and full-on inspections of kids before bedtime. Is that the summer you’ve been looking forward to? Unfortunately, the risk of tick bites - which can lead to Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI) - has made those rather un-festive rituals a necessity in much of the U.S., where ticks are especially active during the warm months between April and September.

But a new government study, published May 24 in the Journal of Medical Entomology, suggests that insecticide-treated clothing may be one of the most effective tick-fighting tools out there. In lab tests, clothing treated with permethrin (interestingly, a synthetic compound similar to the insect-repelling compounds found in chrysanthemums) was shown to cause ticks to fall off the clothing or make the ticks unable to bite the person wearing the treated clothing. Permethrin is found in tick-repelling sprays, creams, and shampoos, but the new study underscores that permethrin-treated clothing is effective at all stages of a tick’s life, causing the ticks to fall off “vertical” clothing such as pants and, after a few minutes, rendering the ticks unable to move normally or bite.

Further, the amount of permethrin used in insecticide-treated clothing is quite low, and that the compound is “poorly absorbed” through the skin of the wearer, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

If you plan to spend the next few months hiking, camping, gardening, or other activities that most of us simply refer to as “summer stuff,” follow these important steps from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cdc.gov/ticks):

KNOW YOUR RISK

You’ll find ticks (or, more precisely, ticks will find you) in grassy, brush, and wooded areas, including parkland, forests, and even your own backyard, garden, or tall grass. Avoid high grass and “leaf litter,” and walk near the center of trails rather than near brush and grass beside the trail.

TREAT CLOTHING AND GEAR

Purchase permethrin-treated clothing such as the clothing tested in the recent government study mentioned above (rei.com is always a good place to start shopping for outdoor gear), or spray clothing, boots, and camping gear with .5% permethrin, which will hold up through several washings, then require retreating.

USE INSECT REPELLENT

Look for compounds such as DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, or 2-undecanone. Important: Don’t use insect repellent on babies younger than two months old and do not use oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol on children under three years old.

CHECK YOUR CLOTHING AFTER TIME OUTSIDE

Check your clothing for ticks, remove any ticks you find, or tumble dry clothing on high heat for at least 10 minutes to kill ticks. (If you wash clothing that may be infested with ticks, use hot water.)

SHOWER

Well, this is always a good idea after a summer hike, but your risk of contracting Lyme disease from a tick bite can be reduced by showering within two hours of coming indoors from a tick-infested area.

DO A BODY CHECK

Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to check your body for ticks, including under your arms, in and around your ears, inside your belly button, the back of your knees, in and around your hair, between your legs, and around your waist. While checking for ticks is serious business, it doesn’t have to be done alone and it doesn’t have to be a total drag. For inspiration, check out Brad Paisley’s hit song (and upbeat public service announcement) “Ticks.”

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