Personal protection measures to prevent tick bites in the United States: Knowledge gaps, challenges, and opportunities
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Personal protection measures to prevent tick bites in the United States: Knowledge gaps, challenges, and opportunities

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  • Alternative Title:
    Ticks Tick Borne Dis
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    Personal protection measures to prevent human tick encounters from resulting in bites are widely recommended as the first line of defense against health impacts associated with ticks. This includes using repellents, wearing untreated or permethrin-treated protective clothing, and conducting tick checks after coming inside, aided by removing outdoor clothing articles and running them in a dryer on high heat (to kill undetected ticks) and taking a shower/bath (to aid in detecting ticks on the skin). These measures have the benefit of incurring no or low cost, but they need to be used consistently to be most effective. In this paper, I review the level of use (acceptability combined with behavior) of the above-mentioned personal protection measures and their effectiveness to prevent tick bites and tick-borne disease. Studies on the level of use of personal protection measures to prevent tick bites have used different recruitment strategies, focused on different types of respondent populations, employed variable phrasings of survey questions relating to a given personal protection measure, and presented results based on variable frequencies of taking action. This complicates the synthesis of the findings, but the studies collectively indicate that members of the public commonly take action to prevent tick bites, most frequently by wearing untreated protective clothing or conducting tick checks (done routinely by 30 to 70% of respondents in most studies of the public), followed by showering/bathing after being outdoors or using repellents on skin/clothing (15 to 40% range), and with permethrin-treated clothing being the least frequently used tick bite prevention method (<5 to 20% range). A suite of experimental studies have shown that applying repellents or permethrin to coveralls or uniform-style clothing can result in decreased numbers of tick bites, but similar studies are lacking for members of the public wearing summer-weight clothing during normal daily activities. Moreover, a set of case-control and cross-sectional studies have explored associations between use of different personal protection measures to prevent tick bites and Lyme disease or other tick-borne infections. The results are mixed for each personal protection measure, with some studies indicating that regular use of the measure is associated with a reduction in tick-borne disease while other studies found no similar protective effect. One possible interpretation is that these personal protection measures can protect against tick-borne infection but the information gathered to date has not been sufficiently detailed to clarify the circumstances under which protection is achieved, especially with regards to frequency of use, parts of the body being protected, and use of combinations of two or more potentially protective measures. In conclusion, personal protection measures to prevent tick bites are used by the public and merit further study to better understand how they need to be used to have the greatest public health impact.
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