by Brianne Markin, Beaver Creek Reserve
Blue skies and long, warm days mean summer is here. And after what seemed like the winter that wouldn’t end, many people are ready to head outside and hit the trails. However, the warm weather also brings out some unwanted pests. With an increase in cases of Lyme’s disease in Eau Claire County, many people, especially parents, are understandably nervous. Last year Beaver Creek Reserve collaborated with the Eau Claire City-County Health Department to educate the public on reducing the risk of Lyme Disease and other diseases spread by ticks, mosquitoes, or biting insects.
Different types of ticks carry Lyme and other diseases and you should check yourself and your family thoroughly after spending time outdoors in the lawn, park, or woods. If you find a tick on your family or pet, use a fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. Pull upward steadily to be sure the entire tick is removed, then clean the area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. If you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing the tick, see your doctor and be sure to mention the tick bite.
If you love the outdoors, what can you do to limit your risks of tick bites in the first place?
Some of the most commonsense preventative measures are still the best. When hiking, stay on groomed trails, and stay to the center of the trails if possible. Wear long pants and shirts with long sleeves, and tuck your pants into socks, boots or shoes if possible. Wearing light colored clothing makes it easier to spot ticks on you.Again, after hiking or spending time in nature, check yourself, children and pets thoroughly for ticks.
There are also a variety of repellants that have been approved by the EPA for use in repelling, and in some cases, even killing ticks. The Center for Disease control recommends three repellents. Permethrin, DEET and Picaridin are the most effective options. Let’s take a look at each of these choices.
Permethrin is considered the most effective repellent, as it both repels and kills ticks. Permethrin is a synthetic compound designed to mimic the properties of natural extracts from the chrysanthemum flower. Despite the somewhat natural origins, Permethrin should never be applied directly to skin. Instead, clothing is treated with permethrin and allowed to dry. Once dry, it will not transmit to skin. Treated clothes will remain effective through 50-70 washes. Permethrin is available online and more stores are carrying it. Clothing items pre-treated with Permethrin are also being sold. Beaver Creek sells BugBeWear® brand socks that are pre-treated with permethrin in the nature store.
The next most effective repellent for ticks is DEET. With an average effectiveness of 85%, DEET is also the most studied insect repellent. DEET can be applied directly to the skin or to clothing, although it may stain or damage some fabrics. While there have been concerns about negative effects, a concentration of 20-50% is considered safe. Common sense precautions such as not applying products containing DEET to broken or sensitive skin, minimizing skin exposure, avoiding contact with eyes are all recommended. It is also recommended to wash products containing DEET from skin completely after use.
One of the newest repellents on the market in the United States is Picaridin. Picaridin is another synthetic compound made to mirror those of a plant. In this case, plants containing the natural compound piperine, found in plants used to produce black pepper. Picaridin has been widely used in Europe and Australia prior to approval for use in the United States in 2005. It can be applied to skin or clothing, is 85% effective in repelling ticks and other biting insects, and is odorless and non-irritating. Several repellents containing Picaridin are widely available.
There are three other repellents shown effective by research; two of the three are approved by the EPA.
With an active ingredient derived from wild tomato plants, BioUD has a 90% average efficacy rate and can be applied to both skin and clothing safely. IR3535 is short name for Insect Repellent 3535 which was trademarked by Merck pharmaceutical in the 1980’s. Despite a long chemical name (Ethyl butylacetylaminopropionate) this compound is essentially a synthetic amino acid, structurally similar to a beta amino acid found in vitamin B. This repellent works by confusing an insect’s sense of smell. Use of IR3535 has been widespread in Europe for over 30 years and WHO (World Health Organization) studies have proven it not only safe but also effective. IR3535 is the active ingredient in Avon’s popular Skin So Soft Bug Repellent.
The last option is one that is not approved by the EPA, but has shown to be as effective as DEET in some varieties. A lot of debate surrounds the use of Essential Oils, especially as a repellent. The most researched varieties were rosemary, geraniol, peppermint, thyme, lemongrass and cedar. Efficacy depended on the concentration and type of oil.
When applying repellents to skin it is recommended to test a small patch of skin prior to widespread use. Aerosol and spray repellents should be applied to skin (if recommended) and clothing outdoors. Repellents are not recommended for use on infants, and many are not recommended for children under age two. Read all warnings and indications on packaging prior to use. For children age 2-12 it is highly recommended to supervise children when applying repellent. Parents or another adult should apply the product to their own hands and then rub onto a child’s clothing or skin (as directed). More information and tips for reducing your risk of Lyme’s can be found at www.echealthdepartment.org