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Ask the Doctor: Lyme Disease

Gus Manocchia, M.D., BCBSRI Clinical Consultant

Q. I’m concerned about ticks, especially with my two children playing outside so much in the summer. What are the best ways to protect my family from Lyme Disease?

A. Lyme disease affects around 300,000 Americans each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—that's 10 times more people than previously thought. In Rhode Island, we have one of the highest rates of Lyme disease in the United States. However, there’s plenty you and your family can do to stay safe.

  • Know where to expect ticks.
    Ticks live in moist and humid environments, particularly in or near wooded or grassy areas. That might include your backyard.
  • Use tick repellent on clothing.
    Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks, and tents, with products containing 0.5% permethrin. It’ll last through several washings.
  • Use insect repellent on skin.
    Look for one containing 20% to 30% DEET. Always follow the product instructions and don’t let children use it themselves. When putting repellent on your kids, avoid their hands, eyes, and mouth. Don't use repellent on babies. Be sure to wear closed shoes, a hat, and long pants so as little of your skin is exposed as possible.
  • Check for ticks on your (and your children’s) clothes and body.
    Use a mirror so you can see all parts of your body, like your ears, scalp, and belly button. Don't forget to check your clothes, shoes, and even pets.
  • Shower within two hours after being outdoors.
    This lowers your risk of getting Lyme disease and may help wash off unattached ticks.

What if you do find a tick? Pluck it out...but carefully! Use pointed tweezers to gently pull the tick up and out. Call your doctor if you think the tick has been attached for at more than 24 hours or if you notice symptoms of Lyme Disease, such as fever, headaches, muscle aches, or a distinctive “bull’s eye” rash.

I hope those tips are helpful. Have a happy and healthy summer.

What about mosquitoes?

The species of mosquito that carries Zika virus is not known to be in Rhode Island. However, it’s still important to protect yourself from mosquitoes, which can carry West Nile Virus and other serious diseases.

What works

  • Repellents containing DEET
  • Repellents containing Picaridin (also known as KBR 3023, Bayrepel, and icaridin)
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus
  • IR 3535

What doesn’t work

  • Backyard bug zappers
  • Wristbands with chemical repellents
  • Nutritional supplements or vitamins
  • Ultrasonic and electronic devices