While most people simply spray on skin repellent before going out in warmer months, the truth is that such substances are only a part of the overall tick bite defense strategy.
Wearing clothing treated with the insecticide permethrin greatly decreases the chances of tick attachment, because, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the substance is toxic to the “adults and larvae of many species of biting, chewing, scaling, soil, and flying invertebrates” (e.g. ticks, mosquitoes, flies, etc.).
When treating items with permethrin, remember to apply it to:
- Headwear – hats (outside only), bandanas, etc.
- Sleeping bags (and sleeping bag liners)
- Any other fabric-made clothing or gear that could carry ticks
A University of Rhode Island study found that while permethrin-treated short-sleeved shirts could make you three times less likely to have a tick attachment, and treated shorts would make a tick bite five times less likely, applying the substance to footwear and socks would dramatically reduce your chances of tick attachment to 74 times less likely.
Clearly, paying attention to how ticks move and attach will give you a huge advantage when treating your clothing with permethrin. Ticks do not fly, leap, or fall from trees. Typically, they crawl up on blades of tall grass and wait for a host to brush past, or they wait in leaf litter and crawl up on your shoe or boot.
So, in effect, treating your footwear will be like posting your biggest guards at the front gate to defend against ticks!
Treating your socks will add to that protection, and treating your pants or shorts (combined with skin repellent) will add even further protection, and so on – all the way up the body in the typical tick path.
Do not give in to false assurance after simply treating a single item (or even a couple of items) of clothing!
Taking your typical outdoor activities and how ticks behave into account will help you develop a smart, proactive plan clothing treatment strategy.
For example, a day hiker who tends to stay on the trail could have different clothing treatment needs from an avid camper, hunter or deep woods trekker. And, active children tend to really mix it up outdoors in the spring, summer, and fall, so overall protection for them is essential!
Remember, permethrin-treated clothing only protects the parts of the body that it actually covers. For best protection, apply skin repellent to areas of the body that are still exposed after putting on the permethrin-treated clothing.