As a new Lyme disease season approaches, researchers have found that people who routinely check their bodies for ticks and/or shower after being outdoors are significantly less likely to develop the illness.
In what is believed to be the first study on the effectiveness of various Lyme disease prevention measures in a domestic environment, the research team from the Yale School of Public Health’s Emerging Infections Program found that body checks within 36 hours of being outdoors and showers within two hours are particularly effective in terms of prevention.
“In the northeastern US, Lyme disease risk is high right in our own backyards. This study aimed to figure out if what people do to prevent tick bites in their own yards actually reduces their risk for Lyme disease,” said James Meek, one of the study’s authors and the associate director of the Yale Emerging Infections Program at the School of Public Health.
The team tracked 716 people in 24 Connecticut towns and compared the safety practices of people infected with Lyme disease—the most common tick-borne disease in the United States—against people who were disease free. They found that people who routinely did body checks after being outdoors were up to 45 percent less likely to contract the disease. People who bathed soon after spending time outside can reduce their risk by as much as 58 percent. Bathing soon after spending time outdoors is a preventive measure that is not currently recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.
The two measures, noted lead author Neeta Connally, are simple, effective and cost-free and can practiced by anyone living in areas where Lyme disease is prevalent.
“There have been so many recommended Lyme disease prevention measures, ranging from personal protection to tick-safe landscaping and chemical control,” said Connally, an associate research scientist. “When presented with so many recommendations, it may be hard for the public to know which measures to use. It can be overwhelming. We are encouraged that the effective prevention measures that we’ve identified – bathing and performing daily tick checks - are ones that are inexpensive and require minimal effort to carry out. We hope that our findings may help streamline Lyme disease prevention messages in the future.”
Connally and her colleagues also found that people whose property is protected by some type of fencing also appear to be less likely to develop the disease. It may be that fencing discourages deer—which commonly transport the ticks—from entering backyards where families recreate. Further studies are needed to determine if certain types of fencing are more effective than others and exactly how having a fence on one’s property may help prevent Lyme disease.
Other researchers involved in the study include Robert Heimer, a professor in the division of Epidemiology of Microbial Diseases, Randall Nelson, Epidemiologist and State Veterinarian at the Connecticut Department of Public Health, Kimberly Yousey-Hindes, an epidemiologist at the Yale Emerging Infections Program, and Amanda Durante, City Epidemiologist for New Haven and an alumnus of the School of Public Health. The study appeared in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.