Ah, spring: those welcome rays of sunshine bring us flowers, barbeques and ... ticks? One cheerful romp through the woods and a little pathogen-loaded bug bite could infect you with a number of illnesses—most common among them, Lyme disease, which ticks carry to some 100,000 Americans a year. The symptoms are as icky as the name sounds: fatigue, chills, fever, joint swelling, rash and paralysis, to name a few. But instead of barricading your family indoors, there are simple ways to protect yourselves. While in the backyard, periodically scan your body for any clinging visitors and use fine-tipped tweezers to immediately remove ticks before they can transmit disease. Technique is all: using blunt tweezers and crushing the body could spill infected insect innards into the bite. So pinch the tick close to your skin and pull away with a slow, steady motion, disinfecting the area before and after. These tiny parasites do not wash off in the shower, and you should avoid direct contact with hands. (Don't try and smother an attached tick with Vaseline or smoke it out with a match—that just gives the little biters more time to infect you.)
To avoid tick bites in the first place, don protective clothing when headed for wooded areas or a backyard that borders land where deer and mice are likely to hang out. Cover any exposed skin with long sleeves and hats, and tuck your pant legs into your socks. Then use a DEET-based repellent for your skin and a permethrin spray for your clothing. Give Spot a good frisking, too; ask your vet for an appropriate treatment for your pet. If you get a rash, or other symptoms of Lyme disease after getting a tick bite or visiting a tick-prone area, see your doctor. Lyme disease is difficult to diagnose, but your physician can evaluate you and determine whether a course of antibiotics is necessary. To learn more about tick prevention, bite treatment and tick-related illnesses, check out the Tick ResourceCenter.