Tick expert Dr. Sam Telford answers questions about the Island’s most insidious insect and how to prevent the bacteria it can inject.
Can a dip a day help keep Lyme away?
It is possible that swimming could wash off any ticks that have made it off your clothes and onto your skin, but have not yet attached. Ticks can be finicky about where they attach. They prefer dark, moist areas and particularly where there is a constriction due to clothing, such as a panty line. Ticks certainly can and do attach on upper arms and backs, but perhaps this may be because the tick is really hungry (hungry ticks are not picky) or the person has a really good animal smell. So if the tick is still crawling around trying to decide where to put on the feed bag, a shower or even a good swim could wash them away. Ticks cannot swim but are kind of waterproof, as anyone who has discarded a live dog tick into the toilet can tell you. The tick can sit there in the bowl for days and if given the opportunity, can crawl up and walk away none the worse for wear. The surface tension on their waxy bodies keeps a thin film of air available to their breathing system (some pores on both sides of their body). However, if you add something to break the surface tension, such as soap, the ticks will sink and die within hours. Salt water won’t kill them in the short time you are swimming, so if the tick is attached it will go on merrily feeding.
Of course, it is better to use repellents and treated clothing whenever possible and not have to rely on swimming or tick checks to help prevent tick bites. Visit the MV Tick Borne Disease Initiative website (www.mvboh.org), sponsored by the Island-wide boards of health, for tips on prevention.
Sam Telford is Professor of Infectious Disease and Global Health at Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. He works on the epidemiology of tick-borne infections and for the last 20 years has been sneaking around the tick-infested Vineyard doing his part to take away as many ticks as he can. He is a member of the MV Tick Borne Disease Initiative, which is sponsored by the Island-wide boards of health.