About two years ago while drifting off to sleep, I felt a sensation I never want to feel again. Just writing this makes me squirm.
Something small was crawling up my leg. Since I wasn’t tromping through the woods, the feeling was completely out of place.
It was a black-legged tick. Dangerous, though tiny.
The deer tick, another name for the black bugger that tried to shack up in our bed, is the only type of tick in Maine that spreads Lyme disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Nymphs peak in late June and July and a harsh winter does little to deter them because they start crawling out from under the snow when the mercury hits about 40 degrees.
Deer ticks are also the reason why even though temperatures are still well below freezing, I’m already looking into prevention, particularly for my toddler. There won’t be any stopping her from climbing over dead trees and through tall grasses this summer.
For semi-crunchies like myself who avoid DEET and other harsh chemicals, tick prevention can be risky. I know I put myself and my family at more risk using more “natural” products or none at all.
I bank on hypervigilance (and this year, essential oils) being enough.
Our dog is the worst offender. He has always been a tick magnet. His black and gray double coat is the perfect hiding place, and makes him a nice cozy place to snack. We will put a chemical-laden repellent on him if we know we’re headed into a deep thicket, but otherwise, we rely on tick checks and a handy tick puller that makes removing the swollen arachnids a little easier. He also gets a Lyme vaccine each year to help prevent the disease when the ticks inevitably escape detection and find a home on his back or in his armpits.
As for the Feulner humans, we are chemical-spray free. We tuck pants into socks and wear long sleeves, but mostly we rely on frequent checks.
I’m also looking into using essential oils. Rosewood oil is known for its anti-parasitic properties and lavender, lemongrass and geranium oils are said to repel pests. From what I’ve read, you can put drops behind ears and on wrists, or turn the oils into sprays using a “carrier” like vinegar.
We also plan on investing in clothing made with permethrin and possibly kid’s bug suit made of lightweight, thin netting that fits over regular clothes.
For a tick to transmit Lyme disease, it must be attached to its host – human or animal – for at least 24 hours. So if and when you’re bitten, remove the tick as soon as possible. According to the Centers for Disease Control, common symptoms of Lyme include rash, fever, facial paralysis and body aches. If you develop any symptoms or an illness within weeks of a bite, see a healthcare provider right away.
How do you repel ticks? Is DEET really the only way to go, or is there hope for this anti-DEETer yet?