URI tick expert aims to prevent tick bites by “changing the way people dress in summer”

Tick repellent fashion show is part of Tick Gala, June 5

KINGSTON, R.I. – June 1, 2009 – University of Rhode Island entomologist Thomas Mather has been working to protect people from tick bites for more than two decades. But now he is changing strategies.

“Focus group research tells us that people know what they should do to prevent getting bitten by ticks, but they just don’t do it,” said Mather, director of the URI Center for Vector-Borne Disease. “Ideas like tucking pants in socks and checking ourselves for ticks after going outside just hasn’t become part of most people’s routine, even though they know they should. It’s even harder to convince people to take effective preventive actions when we know that tick encounters often happen when least expected.”

So Mather is working to make tick bite prevention even easier so people hardly have to think about it. The URI professor is collaborating with a company that sells clothing pre-treated with tick repellent in an effort to change the way people dress in the summer.

“This is tick-bite prevention made easy because the protection is built right in to the clothing,” Mather said.

The “Tick Repellent You’ll Love to Wear” fashion show is just one of several fun activities planned for the BIG TICK Gala, Friday June 5 from 5:30 to 8 pm at the Roger Williams Park Botanical Center. Tickets for the Gala and fashion show are $25. Call Karen Frost at (401) 874-2928 to purchase tickets.

Mather and his research team completed a study of tick repellents in 2008, concluding that repellents containing Permethrin – not DEET – are the best option for preventing tick bites. Permethrin-based repellents are applied to clothing, not skin.

Insect Shield pre-treats clothing with permethrin and sells it through L.L. Bean, Orvis, REI, Eagle’s Nest Outfitters, Ex-Officio and other outdoor clothing retailers.

Insect Shield has also launched their own label of tick repellent camp apparel especially for children, which Mather said makes wearing tick repellent easy. “In the summer, if all of your kids’ play clothes are pre-treated with repellent, then they will benefit from the protection in all of their outdoor activities, and as a parent, it will give you some piece of mind without the usual arguments to put repellent on,” he explained. Information on Insect Shield camp apparel is available through the websites of individual camps that have become Insect Shield affiliates, with 10 percent of the proceeds returned to the camps. There also are links on Mather’s website.

“This is an excellent solution for concerned parents preparing to send their children off to summer camp,” Mather said. The repellent in the clothing remains effective through 70 washings. Do-it-yourself spray or soak products containing permethrin also are available to treat clothes already on hand. Protection from do-it-yourself products like TickBlock or Sawyer Products remains effective through 6-8 washings.

“This new strategy is a paradigm shift for most people,” Mather said, “but it’s also the best thing you can do to protect your family from the many diseases that ticks transmit, including Lyme disease, babesiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and anaplasmosis.”

Among the findings of Mather’s tick repellent study:

– Individuals wearing clothing treated with Permethrin-based repellents were more than 3 times less likely to be bitten by a tick than when wearing untreated clothing;

– Clothing-only repellents are even effective tick-bite deterrents when applied to summer clothing like shorts, T-shirts, and especially sneakers;

– Ticks exposed for as little as 10 seconds to clothing treated with Permethrin-based repellents dropped off and eventually died.

– The poppy-seed size nymphal ticks are most likely to latch on at shoe level, suggesting that repellents should also be applied to socks and shoes, too. In the study, people with treated shoes and socks were 71 times less likely to get a tick bite when ticks first crawled onto shoes.

For more information about tick repellents, ticks, tick-borne diseases, and additional strategies to avoid ticks, visit Mather’s website, www.tickencounter.org.