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Tick-ocalypse Now! COVID increases tick hazards.

by Al Lewis

While COVID has pushed ticks off the front page of summer hazards, no one told the ticks. They're tanned, rested and ready.

Further, your employees aren’t at work, aren’t commuting, and aren’t generally congregating in indoor venues. That leaves one other place outside the home that they could be, which is: outside the home. Hence more targets for the ticks.

It's also possible that our mental energy spent preventing COVID reduces our share-of-mind for tickborne illness prevention.

Most importantly, tickborne illness symptoms can mimic COVID symptoms. If you get flu-like symptoms in the summer, and test negative for COVID, tickborne disease could be the culprit.

What follows is last summer's Six Things to Know about Ticks. All equally relevant this summer, with even greater viligance required in the age of COVID.


1. Prevention works best

This is fairly self-evident for anyone who lives in tick-infested areas, but folks who are vacationing may not know the drill, so here goes:

  • Stick to the trails.

  • Avoid rubbing up against plants.

  • Wear long pants and tuck them into your socks. Not much of a fashion statement, but neither is a bullseye rash.

  • Our friend on the right is wearing dark clothing, which seems to attract fewer ticks.

  • Launder clothes after you hike. Dark clothing may attract fewer ticks, but they are harder to spot. The spin cycle will catch any ticks you missed.

We rarely advise actions that require spending noticeable sums of money, but this may be an exception. Clothing claiming to prevent tick bites may actually work, but only well enough to be a complement, not a substitute, for the prevention techniques above.


2. Secondary prevention works second-best

Once or even twice a day in high season (which this is), do a check-for-ticks drill. Check your extremities (including between your toes) and your trunk. We can’t tell you exactly else to check without losing our coveted G-rating, but, yes, check there too. Use a flashlight and a magnifying glass because the ticks that carry the most diseases are the small ones – the deer ticks.


3. There is a right and wrong way(s) to remove a tick

Urban legends abound here. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t smother them with Vaseline. Another popular idea is burning them off. However, as it turns out, ticks are not an exception to the general rule that very few of life’s problems can be solved by holding a match against your skin. Nor can you use a regular tweezers. That might squeeze blood back into your body. Use a tweezers specifically designed to remove ticks from underneath, like this:


4. Keep the tick

If a tick has been attached to you, keep it. Chances are nothing is going to happen to you. Chances are also that if something does happen, the tick itself may not be of value. However, increasingly there are opportunities to diagnose tick-borne illnesses (of which there are 15 and counting) by examining the tick itself – though often these examinations are not covered by insurance.


5. Bullseye rashes may mean Lyme Disease, but Lyme Disease doesn't always start that way

People look for a very distinctive bullseye rash, as well they should. If you have a bullseye rash, you may very well have Lyme Disease. However, there are many other tick-borne illnesses that present differently. Flu-like symptoms in mid-summer might be one example. Further, it is possible to contract Lyme Disease without ever seeing a bullseye rash.


6. Diagnoses are often wrong

Let us hope you never get this far, but diagnosing tick-borne illness is not one of medicine’s long suits. Lyme Disease itself probably generates more false positives and more false negatives than any other infectious disease in the country. You can be overdiagnosed with Lyme Disease without having it, or told “it’s nothing,” when it’s really something. Don’t assume the first test or first doctor is right. If you take the course of antibiotics for Lyme Disease and still don’t feel right, say something.


Here’s the good news: ticks can’t jump. Nor do they lie in wait on tall trees to swoop down onto unsuspecting walkers. You can only pick them up through contact with tall grass, brush, or (much more rarely) piles of dead leaves.

So while those of us who don’t like dousing ourselves in chemical tick repellents need to be very conscientious about spraying our lower halves, we can chill out about our torsos and above. (This assumes no mosquitoes.) Ever notice how when you spot a tick crawling on you, they’re always crawling upwards? That’s because they grabbed onto you low. Nowhere for them to go but up.


If your wellness program doesn’t provide employees with the advice they need for a safe summer (beyond “use insect repellent”), perhaps you should add Quizzify to your benefits quiver?

Ticks, along with mosquitos, poison ivy, bee stings and even eating mayonnaise during picnics are covered in our various Summer Hazards quizzes. It’s not too late to sign up for Quizzify now, to give your employees access to this timely information.

Meanwhile, check out our other “6 Things Employees Should Know,” on heartburn, sleep, EAPs, sugars, fats, and – in time for high season – sunblock.

Because wiser employees make healthier decisions…and healthier decisions save money.


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