You've heard it a hundred times by now: wear long pants and tuck them into your socks. Wear long-sleeved shirts and, in areas with overhanging trees, a hat. Wear light-colored clothing to improve your chances of seeing a dark tick that's singled you out to be its new host.
You've heard this, too: Use a repellent. The type most often recommended contains 20 to 30 percent DEET, but its safety is controversial; avoid getting it in your eyes or mouth, or children's eyes or mouths (it's best not to put it on their hands so it won't find its way into their mouths). Eucalyptus lemon oil is also a recommended repellent. A product that can be used on clothing but not on skin is permethrin (brand names Permanone, Duranon). If you spend a lot of time in tall grass or in the woods, you might want to invest in clothing that's pretreated with permethrin, and the repellent effect will last through dozens of washings. Ticks on clothing won't be removed by washing, even in hot water, but a hot cycle (an hour) in the dryer usually kills them, entomologists say.
For most of us, it's just a good idea to avoid the kind of terrain that is apt to be home to ticks: areas with thick undergrowth, piles of dry brush, overgrown hiking trails, places you reach by bushwhacking off the trails.
A very important practice is to check yourself and your children for ticks daily, and after hikes. Check the entire body; pay special attention to underarms, hairlines and creases in the skin. If you find a tick, remove it carefully with pointed tweezers and call your doctor.
If you're sure the tick has only been on you for a few hours, you may want to take it to UMass for analysis that will show if it is a deer tick, the type that causes Lyme disease (send or bring the tick to UMass Extension Tick Assessment, Agricultural Engineering Building, 250 Natural Resources Way, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Mass. 01003; for more information, contact Dr. Craig Hollingsworth at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
If you have a bull's eye rash—a red circle with a spot in the center—lose no time getting in touch with a doctor. For more detailed information about ticks, how to avoid them and what to do if you get one, check www.mass.gov/dph/tick.