I spoke last week with Dr. Richard Horowitz, a Hyde Park doctor with a following among Lyme patients and the author of Why Can't I Get Better? Solving the Mystery of Lyme & Chronic Disease (St. Martin's, 2013). Look for an in-depth interview with Horowitz in the August issue of Chronogram. In the meantime, here are some of the doctor's top tips for staying tick-free in our Hudson Valley, one of the most Lyme-endemic regions in the world.
1. Apply tick spray. Horowitz prefers the natural brands, but recommends products containing DEET 20%, used with care, for extreme situations.
2. Wear light-colored clothing and long pants, and tuck pants into socks. You may not be stylish, but you'll keep ticks off your skin.
3. Spray clothing with a permethrin spray, a plant-based product for clothes. The spray will effectively repel ticks for one to two weeks. The US Army has introduced permethrin-factory treated combat uniforms to keep soldiers free from disease-carrying insects - but you can find the spray in your local drugstore.
4. Avoid woodland edges and shady forest paths, where ticks like to hang out.
5. After coming inside from outdoors, throw your clothes in the dryer for 30 minutes to kill any ticks that might be on them.
6. Find a partner to check you for ticks from head to toe. Check your children every night during tick season.
7. If you find an embedded tick, don't squeeze it with tweezers, as parts may break off and the mouthparts could remain in your skin. Instead, get a tick-removal device. Keep it on your keychain.
8. Don't assume that you don't have Lyme if you don't see a bull's eye rash. At least half of the people who develop Lyme never see a rash.
9. If you suspect Lyme, request a blood test from your doctor. Rather than the unreliable ELISA test, request the more sensitive Western blot test. The ELISA test misses Lyme about 50% of the time.
10. If you catch Lyme in the first 30 days, there's an 80% chance that you can cure it with a standard course of antibiotics. But keep in mind that along with Lyme, ticks may transmit additional infections. See a doctor specializing in tick-borne diseases who can help you see the whole picture - and come up with a treatment plan that works for you.