Natural Ways to Protect Your Family Against Ticks with Lyme disease and Co-infections

For people and families that live or work in tick infested areas
by Greg Lee


When my daughter was under one year old, she loved to climb up as high as she could. In order to prevent her from getting to the top of the stairs, we installed baby gates. She would try climbing over the gate, pushing through, and pulling to open it. No matter how hard she tried, she was unable to get past the safety gate.

How is a climbing baby similar to deer ticks that emerge in the springtime?

Deer ticks carrying Lyme disease and co-infections are emerging in the spring looking to feed
Just like a baby that like to climb, ticks will climb up high onto anything, grass, trees, and buildings, so they can latch on to their next host. In the spring and summer months, very small nymph deer ticks, about the size of an asterisk “*”, emerge to feed. Because of their size, they are difficult to see and feel. Nymph deer ticks are also the main vector for transmitting Lyme disease¹. Chemical pest repellents help to protect you from ticks.

Permethrin, DEET, Picaridin, and IR3535 can help to repel ticks
DEET and IR3535 are repellents that can be applied to the skin for repelling ticks. Permethrin is recommended to be applied to clothing only. Unfortunately, in rare cases DEET dermal exposure has led to symptoms in adults and children ranging from skin irritation, lethargy, headaches, tremors, involuntary movements, seizures,  convulsions, and death². IR3535 has a low toxicity and is said to be a minimal or nonexistent health risk.  Permethrin is classified as a weak carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It is highly toxic to fish, cats, and aquatic invertebrates. It is classified as a restricted use pesticide³. Most studies report Permethrin as having a low toxicity in humans. Short-term side effects in sensitive individuals include eye, skin, nose, and throat irritation, and may include breathing problems. Signs and symptoms of poisoning following very high exposure include abnormal facial sensation, dizziness, salivation, headache, fatigue, vomiting, diarrhea, and irritability to sound and touch. Pulmonary edema, seizures, and fasiculations may occur in more severe cases. Picaridin is classified as slightly toxic and is not likely to be a carcinogen based on dermal exposure. There are also natural repellents that help your to keep ticks away.

Natural essential oils can also help repel ticks
Essential oils of lemon eucalyptus, citronella, geranium, and peppermint oils are used in commercial insect repellents. Lemon eucalyptus was effective at reducing the numbers of tick bites by 34% against the European castor bean tick, which carries Lyme and co-infections. Citronellol, a major compound in citronella essential oil, geraniol from lily of the valley, and eugenol from clove oil demonstrated pronounced effects at repelling the castor bean tick.  In one study, geranium essential oil at 103 mcg/cm² repelled more than 90% of Amblyomma americanum (lone star tick) nymphs.

In other nymph tick studies on the species Ixodes scapularis (deer tick) and on lone star ticks, these obscure essential oils were effective at repelling ticks: amyris (827 mcg oil/cm²), Cupressus funebris wood (deer tick EC(100) 10.3 mcg oil cm², lone star EC(95) 42.6 mcg oil cm²), Juniperus communis (deer tick EC(90) 10.3 mcg oil cm², lone star EC(95) 50.8 mcg oil cm²), and Juniper chinensis (deer tick EC(73) 10.3 mcg oil cm², lone star EC(95) 91.7 mcg oil cm²)¹. Hydrogenated nepetalactones found in the essential oil of catmint were effective at repelling deer tick nymphs¹¹. The essential oil of catnip, a relative of catmint, contains 12 – 84% nepetalactones¹². As a topical repellent, light sesame, coconut, peanut, and olive oil, which offer partial (20-30%) UV protection¹³ can be mixed with tick repelling oils to apply to the skin. Essential oils can also be used to kill emerging nymph ticks.

Essential oils and their compounds are also effective at killing ticks
Incense cedar heartwood, western juniper and Port-Orford-cedar essential oils were effective a killing deer tick nymphs¹. Nootkatone, a compound in grapefruit essential oil, was effective at killing nymph ticks: I. scapularis (deer tick) 50% lethal concentration (LC50) 0.16 mcg cm² and 90% lethal concentration (LC90) 0.54 mcg cm², A. americanum (lone star) LC50 0.35 mcg cm² and 90% lethal concentration LC90 1.0 mcg cm², D. Variabilis (wood tick) LC50 0.23 mcg cm² and LC90 0.64 mcg cm²,  and R. sanguineus (brown dog tick) 0.19 mcg/cm², and LC90 0.48 mcg/cm²¹. Nootkatone is found at concentrations of 0.1 – 0.8% in grapefruit essential oil¹. Nootkatone from Alaskan yellow cedar was also effective a very low concentrations of LC50 0.0029% at killing nymph deer ticks¹. When encapsulated in lignan and sprayed as a pest control, nootkatone at 0.56% was 100% effective for eight weeks¹. Unfortunately, nootkatone is very expensive. Natural desiccants and insecticide soaps are also effective at killing ticks.

Soaps and desiccants are effective at killing ticks on landscaping materials
Diatomaceus earth and Dri-die were 10-41% effective at killing ticks. Silica-based desiccant Drione and Safer’s insecticidal soap (SIS) treatments were 91-100% effective at killing ticks on landscape materials, which both contain pyrethrins¹. Drione and Safer’s soap provided short-term reduction in deer tick nymph populations for about a week². IC2, which is a combination of Bifenthrin mixed with 10% rosemary oil, sprayed with water was highly effective against adult and nymph ticks²¹. Bifenthrin is a pyrethroid insecticide which is highly toxic to aquatic organisms. Tick killing compounds can be sprayed easily around your home.

Anti-tick compounds can be sprayed around your home with spreaders and sprayers
A spreader can be used to spread powdered desiccants like diatomaceus earth or boric acid. A pressure washer or hose sprayer can be used to spread essential oils dissolved in a little alcohol, liquid desiccants, or insect soaps. With a little preparation, the right repellents and tick killers can protect your home and your family from infected ticks.

A combination of the right tick killing strategies and repellents help keep ticks away
Just like setting up protective barriers to keep a child safe, using anti-tick compounds can help keep ticks away from your home. Topical repellents can also help protect you from ticks when you are out and about. Some of these chemicals have cautions on their use, so follow their directions carefully. Natural essential oils, desiccants, and soaps provide a less toxic repellent or tick killer for chemically sensitive people and animals.

P.S. Do you have experiences where repellents or tick killing treatments helped to protect you and your family against ticks? Tell us about it.

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lyme disease transmission.

2. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. DEET (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) Chemical Technical Summary for Public Health and Public Safety Professionals.

3. Environmental Protection Agency. Permethrin Facts (Reregistration Eligibility Decision (RED) Fact Sheet).

4. Prevention and Health Promotion Administration, Maryland Dept of Health and Mental Hygiene. Permethrin Fact Sheet.
5. National Pesticide Information Center. Picaridin Fact Sheet.

6. Gardulf A, Wohlfart I, Gustafson R. A prospective cross-over field trial shows protection of lemon eucalyptus extract against tick bites. J Med Entomol. 2004 Nov;41(6):1064-7.

7. Thorsell 1, Mikiver A, Tunón H. Repelling properties of some plant materials on the tick Ixodes ricinus L. Phytomedicine. 2006 Jan;13(1-2):132-4. Epub 2005 Jul 1.
8. Tabanca N, Wang M, Avonto C, Chittiboyina AG, Parcher JF, Carroll JF, Kramer M, Khan IA. Bioactivity-guided investigation of geranium essential oils as natural tick repellents. J Agric Food Chem. 2013 May 1;61(17):4101-7. doi: 10.1021/jf400246a. Epub 2013 Apr 22.

9. Carroll JF, Paluch G, Coats J, Kramer M. Elemol and amyris oil repel the ticks Ixodes scapularis and Amblyomma americanum (Acari: Ixodidae) in laboratory bioassays. Exp Appl Acarol. 2010 Aug;51(4):383-92. doi: 10.1007/s10493-009-9329-0. Epub 2009 Dec 18.

10. Carroll JF, Tabanca N, Kramer M, Elejalde NM, Wedge DE, Bernier UR, Coy M, Becnel JJ, Demirci B, Başer KH, Zhang J, Zhang S. Essential oils of Cupressus funebris, Juniperus communis, and J. chinensis (Cupressaceae) as repellents against ticks (Acari: Ixodidae) and mosquitoes (Diptera: Culicidae) and as toxicants against mosquitoes. J Vector Ecol. 2011 Dec;36(2):258-68. doi: 10.1111/j.1948-7134.2011.00166.x.
11. Feaster JE, Scialdone MA, Todd RG, Gonzalez YI, Foster JP, Hallahan DL.
Dihydronepetalactones deter feeding activity by mosquitoes, stable flies, and deer ticks. J Med Entomol. 2009 Jul;46(4):832-40. 

12. Tisserand, R. and Young. R. 2013 Essential Oil . 2nd Ed. p. 607.
13. Korać RR, Khambholja KM. Potential of herbs in skin protection from ultraviolet radiation. Pharmacogn Rev. 2011 Jul;5(10):164-73. doi: 10.4103/0973-7847.91114.
14. Dolan MC, Dietrich G, Panella NA, Montenieri JA, Karchesy JJ. Biocidal activity of three wood essential oils against Ixodes scapularis (Acari: Ixodidae), Xenopsylla cheopis (Siphonaptera: Pulicidae), and Aedes aegypti (Diptera: Culicidae). J Econ Entomol. 2007 Apr;100(2):622-5.

15. Flor-Weiler LB, Behle RW, Stafford KC 3rd. Susceptibility of four tick species, Amblyomma americanum, Dermacentor variabilis, Ixodes scapularis, and Rhipicephalus sanguineus (Acari: Ixodidae), to nootkatone from essential oil of grapefruit. J Med Entomol. 2011 Mar;48(2):322-6.

16. Tisserand, R. and Young. R. 2013 Essential Oil Safety. 2nd Ed. p. 610.

17. Panella NA, Dolan MC, Karchesy JJ, Xiong Y, Peralta-Cruz J, Khasawneh M, Montenieri JA, Maupin GO. Use of novel compounds for pest control: insecticidal and acaricidal activity of essential oil components from heartwood of Alaska yellow cedar. J Med Entomol. 2005 May;42(3):352-8.

18. Bharadwaj A, Stafford KC 3rd, Behle RW. Efficacy and environmental persistence of nootkatone for the control of the blacklegged tick (Acari: Ixodidae) in residential landscapes. J Med Entomol. 2012 Sep;49(5):1035-44.

19. Patrican LA, Allan SA. Laboratory evaluation of desiccants and insecticidal soap applied to various substrates to control the deer tick Ixodes scapularis. Med Vet Entomol. 1995 Jul;9(3):293-9.

20. Allan SA, Patrican LA. Reduction of immature Ixodes scapularis (Acari: Ixodidae) in woodlots by application of desiccant and insecticidal soap formulations. J Med Entomol. 1995 Jan;32(1):16-20.

21. Rand PW, Lacombe EH, Elias SP, Lubelczyk CB, St Amand T, Smith RP Jr. Trial of a minimal-risk botanical compound to control the vector tick of Lyme disease. J Med Entomol. 2010 Jul;47(4):695-8.

Image courtesy of Jarekt of Wikimedia Commons


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