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Learn how to prevent tick bites and Lyme disease

How ticks spread illness + Lyme research updates + the long Covid link. Plus, a new fabric with magical cooling powers + a study shows walking can ease back pain!
Grandpa and granddaughter fish off the end of a dock and family has a bonfire on a beautiful summer evening.

Ticks are spider-like arachnids with round bodies, tiny legs and chomping teeth. They clamp onto skin and feast like vampires (ew), transmitting disease if they pass fluids back into our blood (double ew).

While tick bite prevention is not a fun topic to explore, it’s an increasingly important one—climate change is making tick season longer + tick territory spread.

So scroll for both a primer + a deep dive. But first, lighten the load with your staycation…

  • Checkup: avoidance + indulgence 
  • Tick Talk: safety + staying power + hope
  • Healthcare: walking + cancer + cooling

The Checkup: 

Tick talk 101

A young Black man with a bald head wearing  and a young white woman with red hair wear camping clothes and drink coffee from metal mugs at their woodland campsite, smiling as they look at something off camera.

Whether you’re a seasoned pro at removing ticks or have zero clue how the little buggers wreak havoc, CNN offers a helpful refresher.

Different ticks cause different issues. Blacklegged ticks transmit bacteria that cause Lyme disease. Lone Star ticks introduce a molecule to the bloodstream that can trigger a red meat allergy. Several ticks spread the Powassan virus, which can cause severe inflammation.

Ticks can be active when ground temperatures exceed 45°, so warmer winters are making them a year-round issue even in northern states. They thrive in grassy areas and spread regionally by traveling on mice and deer—so familiarize yourself with the specifics near you.

Ticks don’t fly or drop from high places. Instead, they cling to tall grasses, extend their legs, and attach to humans + animals who brush by. Here’s how to prevent them from attaching, and how to remove them when they do.

  1. Use DEET repellant on your skin. It burns ticks’ feet, causing them to fall off. It becomes less effective as it dries, though.
  2. Studies show that pretreating clothes with permethrin offers the best protection. Permethrin weirds out ticks’ nerves so they can’t function, eventually killing them. 
  3. No matter which repellant you use, tuck pants into boots, cover your hair, wrap your neck, etc. This will make it harder for ticks to access your skin in the first place.
  4. When home, toss worn clothing into the dryer for 30 minutes to kill potential clingers.
  5. If you find an attached tick, use tweezers to grasp its head as close to the skin as possible. Then gently pull it straight out. Don’t twist as you pull, as this may detach the head and release substances into your bloodstream.
  6. Take a picture of the tick so you or your doctor can identify it, which helps determine disease risk. 
  7. Drown the tick in rubbing alcohol or hand sanitizer or burn it. Then throw it away.

When Lyme Lingers

A broad view of an alpine lake in the mountains, with camping chairs, table, gas stove and coffee maker sitting at the edge and no people in sight.

Health experts used to believe that a two-week course of antibiotics cleared up Lyme infections in all patients. Today, studies confirm antibiotics do kill the bacteria. But 10-25% of Lyme patients develop chronic symptoms, either because they were treated too late or because of complications. The condition is now called post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome, or PTLDS.

PTLDS can also cause arthritis pain, brain fog, chronic fatigue, migraines and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS), a condition that causes your heart to be faster than it should.

For some, Lyme triggers an autoimmune reaction that causes another illness, like inflammatory bowel disease or multiple sclerosis. In others, symptoms happen because inflammation from Lyme just doesn’t go away: tracking elevated autoantibody and inflammatory mediator marker levels, researchers suspect this occurs because the bacteria leaves antigens behind.

Medications can help calm symptoms. But there’s no cure for PTLD. Misdiagnosis is common, especially among Black patients. And the symptoms can overlap with + delay diagnosis of other illnesses, like cancer or ALS. Read more at the Washington Post.

Back view of young slim woman sitting in lotus position in front of panoramic window, forest outside window.

Like Lyme, Covid-19 can also trigger chronic illness—the CDC estimates about 7% of the US population currently has long Covid. Many other infections also cause post-viral or post-bacterial illness, causing similar symptoms like brain fog, chronic fatigue, pain and digestive issues.

Until the Covid-19 pandemic, researchers never had a large population with a single triggering infection to study. Today, experts are looking to create a “common research agenda” that might benefit this massive group of patients.

Researchers hope to identify genetic markers that can predict if someone is at higher risk for chronic symptoms post-infection, and risk differences by sex. (Females are more likely to get PTLDS or long Covid.) They're also developing targeted therapies. And advocates are creating education policies to better prepare providers and communities.

Learn more about PTLDS + hope for the future at Well + Good.

Healthcare 411

Walking three times a week ‘nearly halves’ recurrence of low back pain (Guardian). An Australian study followed 700 adults for three years and found that those who walked 3-5 times per week halved their experience with back pain! They weren’t long-distance walkers, either. The researchers found an average of 130 weekly minutes helped. But starting slow and working your way up will yield benefits.

As they enter their 60s, Gen Xers projected to see higher cancer rates than Boomers (NPR). Analyzing data from 3.8 million people, researchers predict that Gen Xers will face higher cancer diagnoses as they enter their 60s than those born between 1908 and 1964. Earlier detection may contribute. But sedentary lifestyles (thanks, computers!) and pollutants like synthetic chemicals in use since the 50s are potential culprits, too.

This impossibly thin fabric could cool you down by 16-plus degrees (Fast Company). A new fabric of spun plastic + silver nanowires can block solar radiation and heat reflected from surfaces, which could be a game changer for city dwellers. In outdoor tests, the fabric stayed 16° cooler than silk, which is currently the coolest breathable fabric available. Researchers hope it can also help cool buildings, cars and items for shipping.

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