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Don't get bitten: Preventing Lyme disease

Working outdoors can expose workers to a host of hazards not normally encountered during cooler months. Among these hazards are insects that live outdoors and thrive in warmer climates.

One serious risk of outdoor work is Lyme disease, which is spread when individuals are bitten by infected ticks. Initial symptoms of the disease include fever, headache, fatigue and skin rash. If left untreated, these symptoms worsen and the infection can spread to a victim’s joints, nervous system and heart.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May, June and July are the most active months for ticks that transmit Lyme disease. The agency offers the following precautions to protect against tick bites.

Avoid tick-prone areas
Ticks prefer wooded areas with high grass, bushes and leaf litter. Whenever possible, avoid working in such areas. When this is not possible, clear heavy brush in work areas to reduce the likelihood of encountering ticks. Stand as close to the center of trails or open spaces as possible to avoid direct contact with the bushes and overgrown grass. Your local health department may be able to inform you of areas with particularly high levels of tick infestation.

Protect your skin
When working in areas where ticks may be present, it is important to take measures to keep the insects away from your skin. Wear long pants, shirts and socks to cover as much skin as possible. Tucking your pant legs into your boots can help ensure ticks stay outside of your clothing. If you are going to be working outside for an extended period of time, consider taping the area where your pants and socks meet to further prevent the insects from crawling under your clothing.

CDC also recommends workers consider treating work clothes with Permethrin, a repellent that can be applied to clothing to kill ticks. However, never use Permethrin directly on your skin. Treat any exposed skin with insect repellent containing 20-30 percent DEET.

Keep a lookout
Check clothes for ticks every day after work before returning indoors. Wash work clothes in hot water and dry them using high heat for at least one hour to kill any ticks you may have overlooked.

Also, perform daily tick checks on your skin. Do not only look at exposed skin – carefully inspect all areas of the body, including armpits, scalp and groin. If you find a tick, remove it immediately with fine-tipped tweezers. If the tick has been attached to your body for less than 24 hours, the risk of Lyme disease is relatively small, but be sure to carefully monitor yourself for any symptoms.

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