COLCHESTER, Vt. -
The best prevention for Lyme disease is to avoid being bitten, and taking quick action if you are.
"When I first started this, it was really hard to see the ticks on the cloth, but now I know which are debris and which are ticks," said Emily Marsh, a Lyndon State College student.
Researchers from Lyndon State will spend the summer and fall sweeping sections of forest.
In a Colchester patch, they’re trying to determine what leads deer ticks, carriers of Lyme disease, to cluster in certain areas.
"A lot of this in here is honeysuckle, like this, and that's what the ticks love," said Marsh.
Associate Professor Allen Giese is leading the research team. He says their work makes them experts in bite prevention.
"Although it isn't necessarily stylish, tuck in your shirt, and tuck your pants into your boots or your socks," said Giese.
Light-colored clothing makes the bugs easier to spot. Insect repellents containing DEET can help but provide no guarantee.
The researchers chemically treat their clothes with permethrin, a powerful insecticide.
Giese says hikers should make every effort to stay in the middle of trails and away from waist-high vegetation, a favorite perch for ticks.
"They climb up onto vegetation and quest with their front legs out and wait for something to brush into them, they can't jump, they can't fly," said Giese.
Researchers suggest a shower and vigorous scrub anytime you've been out in long grass. If a check turns up a tick, experts warn against using oil or a flame to suffocate the bug.
First, get as close to the skin as possible with fine-tipped tweezers.
"And then just apply steady pressure and pull it up and it will release, but you have to be patient," said Erica Berl of the Vt. Department of Health.
Dr. Steven Phillips, who treats nothing but Lyme cases at his Connecticut practice, says generally speaking, if you locate and remove the tick quickly, you should be safe.
"It's not a black and white switch, it's a spectrum of risk after 24 hours the risk goes up logarithmically, but it can happen anytime, there's not a zero point," said Phillips.
Phillips also suggests getting antibiotic treatment after a tick bite. Experts say when you're doing those checks, a new freckle could be something more sinister, and don't forget to check your head. Better safe than sorry.