Spring is the most important time to take precautions to avoid Lyme disease. Unfortunately, it's also the time gardeners are most anxious to be outside.
The disease is most common in or near woodlands of the northeast coast, the upper midwest, and the northwest. The peak time for infection is early May through July.
People get the disease from the tiny nymph of the black-legged tick. Formerly known as the deer tick because adult ticks congregate on deer, the tick nymph probably got the disease bacterium from a white-footed mouse. Antibiotics are the remedy once infected, but diagnosis is difficult, and too often cures are incomplete.
Avoiding tick bites is the key to preventing not only Lyme disease, but also other tick-borne diseases. Avoid areas where ticks are known to be present, especially in late spring. Stay in the middle of hiking trails, away from tall grasses. Wear light-colored clothing to make tick spotting easier; also wear long-sleeved shirts, pull socks over your pant legs, and use tick repellents. Around your house, discourage mice by eliminating hiding places and food sources. Make a ritual of inspecting exposed children for ticks, especially around the groin, navel, armpits, head, and behind knees. If you find ticks, remove them with tweezers, then watch for a circular rash around the bite. If one appears, see your doctor.
Michael MacCaskey is editorial director of the National Gardening Association.