May 23, 2017

Protect Yourself From Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a serious illness caused that was first diagnosed in Old Lyme, CT in 1975. While often associated with the southern New England Region, the disease has been reported in 49 states, and internationally across North America, Europe, and Asia.i  Symptoms of the disease include fatigue, fever, joint and muscle pain, and headache.  Initial signs of infection may include a characteristic bullseye rash, but this is not always evident making early detection difficult.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that there are over 300,00 new Lyme disease infections in the United States each year, more than breast cancer, colon cancer, HIV, and hepatitis.  The disease is caused by a bacterium transmitted by black legged ticks (commonly called deer ticks), which are found in woodland and grassland areas.  In addition to Lyme disease, black legged ticks also transmit, human babesiosis, and human anaplasmosis.

The purpose of this article is:
  1. To provide information about the potential risk associated with Lyme Disease and other tick borne illnesses 
  2. To help golfers understand how to protect themselves while enjoying the many health and social benefits realized when playing golf  
  3. To reduce the risk of infection by providing practical personal protection recommendations 
  4. To provide additional sources of information that will help people learn more about this disease, and how to minimize the risk of exposure for themselves, their family, and their pets. 
Photo by Scott Bauer
Life Cycle of Black Legged Ticks There are four stages to the tick life cycle; eggs, larvae, nymphs, and adults.  The larvae, nymphs, and adults all feed on blood from mammals during each stage of development.   Ticks cannot jump or fly, and therefore must wait for a host to pass close enough to grab on with their front legs.  The tick often climbs up a blade of grass, and extends its legs as a potential host approaches.  Once the tick finds a host and finds a suitable place to feed, it feeds slowly, typically taking a few days to complete a meal.
Detection and Prevention Black legged ticks are smaller than American Dog Ticks making them more difficult to detect.  slightly larger than the dark brown male, which is approximately the size of the head of a pin.  Once engorged, the females of both species are similar in size, and therefore are difficult to tell apart.   There are three common strategies to reduce the risk of exposure to ticks; protect your property, protect your pets, and protect your person.  Of these three recommendations, protecting your body is the most practical strategy for avoiding exposure on golf courses.   Although golf courses are often criticized and targeted for their use of pest control products, the perception that they apply broad spectrum toxic chemicals could not be further from the truth.

Golf courses provide numerous benefits to the local ecosystem including habitat for native birds, animals, and pollinators, large areas of groundwater recharge in highly developed areas, and effective filtration of precipitation and runoff from impervious surfaces. Golf course superintendents pride themselves on being stewards of the environment, and develop effective programs to reduce their reliance on irrigation, fertilizer, and pesticides.  One strategy to achieve this is converting highly managed turf areas to naturalized meadows that are characterized by native grasses and plants that receive reduced maintenance.  These areas, especially near the margins of woodlands, represent the highest probability of encounters with ticks.  Treating large areas of turf with insecticides to control ticks would eliminate beneficial non-target insects, which goes against the original motivation of establishing the naturalized areas.  These applications are only effective at controlling ticks for a few weeks, and repeat applications consume valuable labor and financial resources that could be used for other areas on the golf course. The best strategy to protect yourself from ticks is to protect your body.  Treat golf shoes and clothing with permethrin, and use an effective insect repellant that contains DEET and Picaridin that can last five hours.  These steps represent the safest approach to avoiding exposure to Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.   Clothing treatments can be found on the internet and at many outdoor outfitting stores.  The chemical used in these products kills ticks on contact, and poses very little risk to humans or mammals.  A video entitled “Beat ticks by treating clothes!” can be found on YouTube.  When treating clothing, remember to treat the inside surfaces of pants and shorts as well.  Pre-treated clothing is also available for purchase from many top outdoor outfitters, and some treatments can last up to 70 washes.

3 Steps to Avoid Lyme Disease 
    • Eliminate leaf litter and overgrown vegetation that may provide habitat for ticks 
    • Remove piles of wood or brush that may be inhabited by small mammals that serve as a food source for tick larvae and nymphs 
    • Photo by Scott Bauer
    • Hire a licensed professional to apply an insecticide to the perimeter of your property to control tick populations 
    • Use tick repelling collars or flea and tick control products on your pets
    • Brush and bathe pets regularly to help detect ticks before they enter your home 
    • Wear light colored clothing to make it easier to see ticks before they attach to your skin
    • Tuck your pants into your socks when hiking in woods or grasslands
    • Use an insect repellant that will repel ticks and other nuisance insects
    • Treat your shoes and clothes with an insect repellant that contains permethrin
    • After spending time outdoors, kill hidden ticks by placing your clothes in the drier for at least 20 minutes before washing them
    • Perform a thorough tick check before getting into the shower 

Dr. Kirby Stafford III of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station authored “The Tick Management Handbook, a integrated guide for homeowners, pest control operators, and public health officials for the prevention of tick-associated disease.”  It provides a thorough description of tick born illnesses and ways to protect yourself from exposure.   The US EPA has a very useful resource that helps identify insect repellants that will be effective for tick, mosquitos, and other nuisance insects for a period of over five hours.  This information can be found at  Selecting the right product can provide hours of protection and peace of mind while you are spending time on the golf course or enjoying other outdoor activities.

 Like many outdoor activities, golf offers a variety of physical and psychological health benefits. While Lyme Disease is a serious threat to people that work and play outdoors, a few simple steps can significantly reduce the risk associated with spending time in nature.  First, inform yourself about the symptoms of the disease, how it is contracted, and the recommendations that will help avoid infection.  Second, protect your property and your pets to avoid bringing ticks into your home.  Finally, research and select the best method of protecting yourself from black legged ticks while you are on the golf course or enjoying other outdoor activities.

i Tick Handbook, K. Stafford III, Chief Scientist, Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, New Haven