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Should You Buy Permethrin Treated Clothing for Blacklegged Tick Protection?

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Tick repellant clothing tested

Here’s the latest news on whether buying commercially available permethrin treated clothing for blacklegged tick protection actually works, and if it is safe.

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Earlier, we reported on a recent study published in the Journal of Medical Entomology, where researchers found that the landscape management habit of raking or leaf-blowing last year’s Fall leaves to the edge of the yard results in creating a prime habitat for the dreaded blacklegged tick—the principal carrier of Lyme disease in the Eastern United States.

Why Your Garden This Spring Could Be Tick Infested

This week, we learn from a new study conducted outdoors about the effectiveness of wearing commercially available permethrin-treated clothing toward the prevention of receiving blacklegged tick bites in comparison to wearing clothing with no treatment at all. Moreover, the study also suggests just how long-lasting that commercial permethrin treatment lasts.

According to a recent news piece about the study posted online with Entomology Today and authored by John P. Roche, Ph.D., “About 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention each year, but the CDC states that the real number of cases in the U.S. might be as high as 300,000. Thus, strategies to reduce exposure to tick bites are an important public health goal.”

Common strategies used to reduce tick exposure and lessen the chances of contracting a disease from a tick bite include that while outdoors to be sure to:

• Wear socks and shoes and long pants with the legs tucked into your socks

• Wear long-sleeved shirts.

• Make it a routine practice to check your body for ticks whenever you have been outdoors.

• Take a shower shortly after being outdoors to check for ticks.

• Enlist the help of a friend for shared de-ticking duty.

The Number One Rule of Tick Removal for Lyme Disease Prevention

It would be ideal if we could prevent ticks from latching onto us at all. As such, one prevention method is the use of an insect repellant known as permethrin that is available as a clothing pre-tick treatment spray. Today, however, clothing that has been especially pre-treated with permethrin is currently for sale. And therefore, the focus of the new study is to determine the effectiveness of commercial pre-treated permethrin clothing against blacklegged tick bites.

Permethrin vs the Blacklegged Tick Study

According to the 2-year-long study, a placebo-controlled, double-blinded trial was conducted with a final count of 82 outdoor workers having successfully completed the entire study. The participants consisted of outdoor workers from Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts who were randomly divided into two groups: one was the treatment group who wore factory-impregnated permethrin clothing, and the other was a control group with sham-treated clothing. Outdoor working hours, tick encounters, and bites were recorded weekly to assess the protective effectiveness of the commercially prepared permethrin-impregnated clothing the workers wore. Neither the researchers nor the workers knew who wore what, until after the field study was completed.

What the study revealed was that during the first year of outdoor tick exposure, the commercial factory-impregnated clothing significantly reduced tick bites by 65% in the first year and by 50% in the second year with an overall 2-yr protective effect of 58%.

The incidence rate for receiving tick bites among the control group wearing the sham-treated clothing was nearly 3 times more than the test group during the first year, but only two times more during the second year. The researchers attributed the closing gap of the incidence rate between the two years being due to gradual permethrin loss from the treated clothing over time from laundering.

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Furthermore, the authors of the study also determined that, “…our study suggests that tick-repellent clothing will be helpful for protecting people both at work and at play. The safety findings of the study, showing that people wearing the long-lasting permethrin clothing consistently had no higher levels of permethrin metabolites in their urine than folks that were not wearing treated clothing, suggests that people are not at any greater risk for exposure to permethrin by wearing permethrin-treated clothing.”

Therefore, the authors concluded that “…factory permethrin impregnation of clothing is safe and effective for the prevention of tick bites among outdoor workers whose primary exposure is to blacklegged ticks in the northeastern United States.”

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The Entomology Today article notes that additional information about obtaining permethrin-treated clothing or having your own clothes treated with permethrin can be found at Insect Shield of Greensboro, North Carolina.

Proper Tick Removal

However, even with permethrin-treated clothing, tick bites are inevitable. As such, here are some pointers on tick removal along with an informative YouTube animation demonstrating proper tick removal.

1. Using a pair of pointed precision tweezers, grasp the tick by the head or mouthparts right where they enter the skin. DO NOT grasp the tick by the body.

2. Without jerking, pull firmly and steadily directly outward. DO NOT twist the tick out or apply petroleum jelly, a hot match, alcohol or any other irritant to the tick in an attempt to get it to back out.

3. Place the tick in a vial or jar of alcohol to kill it (DO NOT kill it by squeezing it between your thumbnails—you could expose yourself to an infectious bacterium by doing this).

4. Clean the bite wound with disinfectant.

5. Monitor the site of the bite for the appearance of a rash beginning 3 to 30 days after the bite. At the same time, learn about the other early symptoms of Lyme disease and watch to see if they appear in about the same timeframe. If a rash or other early symptoms develop, see a physician immediately.

If you have any experiences with tick bites and disease that you are willing to share, please feel free to post them in the comments section below so that others may benefit.

Timothy Boyer has a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona. For 20+ years he has been employed as a freelance health and science writer. Today, with a background in farming and an avid home gardener, Timothy continues writing about science with a focus on the connection between plant biology and gardening for healthy living. For continual updates about plants and health, you can also follow Timothy on Twitter at TimBoyerWrites.

Image courtesy of Creative Commons via Ryan Kaldari

References:

1. “Significant Reduction in Tick Bites Found via Permethrin-Treated Clothing” By John P. Roche, Ph.D., Entomology Today, April 2020

2. “Protective Effectiveness of Long-Lasting Permethrin Impregnated Clothing Against Tick Bites in an Endemic Lyme Disease Setting: A Randomized Control Trial Among Outdoor Workers” Cedar Mitchell, Megan Dyer, Feng-Chang Lin, Natalie Bowman, Thomas Mather, Steven Meshnick, Journal of Medical Entomology, tjaa061, https://doi.org/10.1093/jme/tjaa061

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