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Published on May 13, 2016

Protect yourself from tick-borne infections

Protect yourself from tick-borne infections

Watching people hike Cape Cod trails in flip flops makes Larry Dapsis crazy.  It’s not that they might trip and break an ankle, or brush against the poison ivy surrounding the path.

It’s the risk of tick-borne infection.

Dapsis, an entomologist and coordinator of Barnstable County’s Deer Tick Project, travels from Provincetown to Falmouth sermonizing groups from garden clubs, libraries and senior centers about Lyme disease, Babesiosis, Anaplasmosis and  Borrelia miyamotoi  – all carried by the deer tick.

“Ticks live on the ground. Chances are they will first encounter you at foot level. It stands to reason that you want to wear the most protective shoes possible,” he said.

Start with skin repellents

Even before the shoes, Dapsis encourages Cape Codders to use repellents.

“They can be a highly effective way to prevent tick bites and reduce the risk of getting any number of tick-borne diseases,” he said.

His recommendations follow information from the U.S. Center for Disease and Prevention and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

  • DEET – Brands include Cutter, Off! And #M Ultrathon. It’s the most widely available active ingredient on the market with protection times of one to 10 hours.
  • Picaridin – Brands include Avon Skin-So-Soft bug Guard and Cutter Advanced Natrapel.  This is a synthetic version of piperine, which is a chemical found in black pepper. It protects you for six to eight hours.
  • IR3535 – Brands include Coleman Skin Smart and Avon Skin-So-Soft. This is a synthetic version of an amino acid. It protects for two to 12 hours.
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus – Brands include Citrapel, Coleman Botanicals and Repel Essential. This is a modified version of the natural plant oil. It has a protection time of six hours

Dapsis is less keen on herbal or botanical repellents. These include products with peppermint, lemongrass, cedar, rosemary among other ingredients. They are not EPA registered and their effectiveness is questionable, he said.

Parents should pay particular attention to labels, as some products should not be used for anyone under the age of three, while others cannot be used on infants.

And don’t apply any of these products to your pets, Dapsis warned. Use only repellents formulated for them and approved by your veterinarian.

Treat your clothes

If you are wary of applying repellents directly to your skin – or you wish to have another layer of protection – consider treating your clothes with permethrin, Dapsis recommended.  Sporting goods stores and garden stores typically stock brands including Ben’s, Coleman and Sawyers.

These are highly effective repellents but they are exclusively for treating your clothes and should never be applied to your skin, Dapsis cautions.

Not only can you spray it directly onto your shoes and clothing, but now you can purchase pre-treated garb at many local stores across the Cape.

“There are a number of permethrin products designed for different applications,” Dapsis said. “Be careful to select the product specially formulated for application to outer wear and camping gear.”

The University of Rhode Island’s TickEncounter Resource Center notes that sprays used to treat your clothes remain effective through five or six washings.

You can start by treating all of the shoes your family might wear.

“For shoes, it offers significant and necessary protection from ticks latching onto your shoes and crawling up your leg,” said Dapsis.

If you decide to purchase new pre-treated tick repellent clothes, they are effective through 70 washes, according to the center.