Although there is a long-standing perception that you need to head out into nature to contract Lyme disease, the reality is that many people are exposed to Lyme bacteria on their own properties. I've noticed over the years that a lot of information on preventing Lyme disease focuses on behaviour modification, something that we humans tend to fail miserably at unless something arrives to force the issue. Unfortunately, that something tends to be a brush with Lyme disease.
I'd like to focus for a moment on practical things you can do to make your property a safer place for you and your family to relax and play by making it less hospitable to the ticks that spread Lyme disease.
- Keep your lawn cut short. The ticks that carry Lyme bacteria love to hang out in long grass and frequent mowings can reduce this valuable habitat.
- Make walkways and seating areas out of brick, gravel, or concrete. Using organic matter in these areas is asking for trouble.
- Store firewood away from your house. That's a good idea for many reasons, including depriving ticks - who like to hang out in stacks of firewood - of easy access to your home.
- Place garden plants away from walkways or other well-travelled areas. It's a common practice to allow shrubs and perennial borders to overflow the edges of gardens so that they brush against your legs as you walk past. Ticks can easily take advantage of this to grab onto you as you pass by.
- Locate children's play areas away from the edge of your property. Especially any areas with long grass, weeds, shrubs, brush, woodpiles or stonewalls that can harbour ticks.
- Keep the areas surrounding woodpiles, stonewalls, or lawns free from leaves, weeds, and brush. The combination of these things is pretty much the definition of tick paradise.
- Locate bird feeders and birdbaths away from your house. Birds are common hosts for the ticks that carry Lyme bacteria.
- I would tell you to keep your pets away from any long grass, weeds, perennial borders or wooded areas, but since that's likely not possible, consider investing in tick repellents. (And since the quality of these products can vary considerably, ask your veterinarian for a recommendation.)
- Check your pets for ticks once a day if they have been roaming around outside. Tick repellents are not foolproof and its always better to be safe than sorry. Ticks particularly like to congregate around the ears, so start your check there.
- Invest in some Guinea fowl. This is really only practical if you live in a rural setting. For those of you who do, Guinea fowl are notable for their ability to consume large quantities of ticks and can dramatically reduce your chances of contracting Lyme disease.