LYME RESEARCH ALLIANCE'S ADVICE TO GOLFERS: STAY TICK SAFE!
Many golfers shrug off Lyme disease thinking it’s a threat they don’t have to worry about. But even the most urban-set golf course can be home to ticks that that carry the Borrelia burgorferi spirochete which causes Lyme disease. Here are some practical steps that golfers can take to combat ticks and Lyme disease.
Summer months are particularly dangerous because deer ticks (also known as black-legged ticks) which transmit Lyme are in their very young “nymph” stage. Their tiny size (less than the head of a pin) makes them hard to spot, and when they attach to your skin and feed on your blood over several days, they can transmit diseases.
Don’t let that happen. While the majority of tick-borne illnesses—led by Lyme disease— can be treated with antibiotics, you can suffer from symptoms that range from fatigue and flu-like aches and pains to serious and long-term complications that damage the joints, brain, heart and nervous system. Currently, no tests can rule out Lyme disease. You can test negative, but still have the illness.
How should you, as a golfer, protect yourself?
Know the habitat ticks prefer. Most ticks are usually not found on open, well-groomed fairways, but they are in plentiful supply on the perimeters of golf courses. They can be particularly dangerous to golfers who think nothing of chasing a tee shot into the bushes, tall grass just off the rough, or patchy woods. Be very conscious of your exposure if you do decide to venture into tick habitat to play a shot.
Avoid shady areas as much as possible. Ticks favor areas that are shady and moist. They particularly like vegetation and tall grass in the shade. They also hang out in leaf litter, so be conscious of any areas where any leaves haven’t been groomed away.
Be very cautious when searching for lost balls. Unless you are in a very tight match, think about dropping another ball. The cost of a few extra balls is hugely less than the cost and inconvenience of becoming the next Lyme disease victim. Leave that hook or slice in the woods.
Cover exposed areas. It’s best to wear long, khaki or light colored pants (to make ticks easier to spot) and tuck your pant legs into your socks so the ticks (which always move upward) won’t crawl inside your pants. Also tuck your hair into a hat. Of course, many golfers like to wear shorts, so spray exposed skin with DEET repellent (20 percent concentration). According to the CDC, oil of eucalyptus, a more natural product, can also be used.
Spray your golf clothes—including your golf shoes—the day before an outing with a permethrin-based repellent. Permethrin, which is a flower-based repellent, has low toxicity to humans, but is lethal to ticks. You don’t want ticks to latch on to your shoe laces and crawl up your leg. In one study, shoes that were sprayed with the repellent provided 74 times the protection from hungry nymph-stage deer ticks than untreated shoes. You can buy the spray at outdoor retailers such as REI (www.rei.com), Sawyer Products (www.sawyer.com), and Amazon.com.
Ticks always crawl upward so in addition to spraying your shoes consider high socks as your next line of defense against Lyme disease. Tuck your pant legs into the socks to keep ticks on the outside of clothing. It’s not a fashion look that most golfers prefer to make, but you don’t want a tick to get under your clothing.
Another option is to spray your socks with a permethrin-based product or buy pre-treated socks. One company, Insect Shield (www.insectshield.com), commercially treats clothing with permethrin and these clothes are available at a number of outdoor retailers. Such clothing provides odorless protection from ticks for up to 70 washings. Insect Shield, for instance, sells knee-high compression socks of 85% cool-wick and15% lycra spandex. It also sells treated crew socks.
Wear long pants.Ticks often attach first to the lower legs or pants, and crawl up from there. So if you expect to venture into the rough, always wear long pants. When you spray your pants turn the lower portion of the leg inside out and spray that first. Then treat the outer surface, too. You can find “Insect blocker” pants, pre-treated with permethrin from Columbia, sold by REI. The retailer also sells ExOfficio “BugsAway” pants. Tucking your shirt into your pants will also make ticks crawl on the outside of your shirt when it reaches your waist, rather than inside.
Hate to wear long pants? If it’s so hot that you feel you must play in shorts, apply an insect repellent—the most common products contain DEET— to your legs and other bare skin areas (oil of lemon eucalyptus can also be used) to deter ticks for a few hours. For the best protection, use a repellent that contains permethrin on your clothes and one that contains DEET for your skin.
Also consider a pre-treated shirt. Zorrel polo shirts are treated with Insect Shield technology and are available on Amazon.com, while Ex Officio (www.exoffico.com) sells a short-sleeve “BugsAway" V-neck shirt and a tee. It also offers a long-sleeve crew neck tee, a style which is also available at Orvis (www.orvis.com).
And wear a hat. If you do crawl through brush or walk through high grass, it’s important to wear a hat to protect your scalp. One option is an “Insect Blocker Cap” from Columbia (www.columbia.com). It wicks away sweat, provides UPF 30 protection from the sun, and helps keep you safe from disease-causing ticks.
Don’t forget to spray your golf bag. A common access point for ticks is to brush off on the underside of your golf bag as you roll over longer grass, and then they climb up to the upper part where they can easily brush off on you.
AFTER YOUR GAME:
Strip off all clothing immediately upon your return home and put them through a 10-15 minute dryer cycle at full heat. Ticks can survive the wash, but the dry heat will kill any ticks on your clothing. Wash clothing later – it’s less important.
Take a shower and do a thorough body check, looking for ticks especially in body folds and crevices. Check everywhere, using mirrors if necessary, including behind the knees, back of the neck, behind and in ears, between toes, on the ankles, the groin area, naval, underarms, scalp.
Don’t panic if you find a deer tick. If it’s attached, take a pair of fine-tipped tweezers, clasp the tick as close to the surface of your skin as possible, and gently pull it straight out. Clean the area with soap and water, rubbing alcohol or an iodine scrub. Stick the tick in a jar or plastic bag in case your doctor wants to see it.
One final word of advice: It’s possible that despite all your precautions a tick may have attached itself to you during the game, so be aware of the possibility of ticks surviving in your car. Light colored upholstery is a great help here, and also the knowledge that tick can’t survive dry heat. On a sunny day make a point of parking in the sun for an hour or so with the windows closed.
Lyme Research Alliance is gearing up for its third annual Golf Tournament to be held at The Stanwich Club in Greenwich, CT on Thursday, October 9. LRA is looking for players, foursomes, sponsors, and of course volunteers. If interested, go to www.LymeResearchAlliance.org/golf.htm for info.