As the summer months arrive, the looming threat of ticks becomes more and more apparent. Ticks themselves aren’t very threatening, of course, but a bite from a tick can spread some very nasty diseases indeed. Lyme disease, that controversial disorder doctors can’t quite seem to agree on, is spread exclusively by ticks, and can affect you for many years after the bite. Ticks are experts in covert operations; they will often scour their host’s body for the best place to bite down, becoming nigh on invisible in the process. Despite not being able to fly or jump, they usually travel away from the site of attachment, searching for nooks and crannies. It is therefore common for them to get caught up in clothing, and depending on the temperature of your wash, you might not eradicate them effectively.
When you come in from a long walk in the woods or through tall grass, you should, of course, check your body for ticks. You should also wash your clothes. But what is the right temperature to kill a tick? Ticks are surprisingly resilient little creatures and can survive both high and low temperatures to varying degrees. Nobody likes the idea of putting on ‘clean’ clothes that may still in fact be crawling with ticks. Previously, the recommended method to remove ticks from clothing was to dry them on high heat for one hour. This was considered sufficient, as wet heat is not a reliable way to eradicate them. However, a recent series of tests has concluded that this method might not be good enough.
This research has some very specific data on how to eradicate ticks. Thanks to the efforts of these scientists, we now have an exact temperature setting that we can confidently say kills all ticks – both nymphal and adult forms – on a dry heat wash. That number is 54°C, which translates to 130°F. Any temperatures greater than this will kill 100% of ticks that are attached to clothing. According to the research, when the temperature was lower than 54°C on a wet heat wash, 50% of ticks managed to survive the cycle, which proves how ineffective it can potentially be.
The research didn’t end there. A shocking 94% of ticks survived the wash when the temperature was moderately warm (27–46°C), and all ticks survived a cold wash, at a temperature range of 15–27°C. Subsequently, it took 55 minutes maximum to kill all ticks at >54°C, and curiously, if towels were placed in the wash with the clothing, all ticks were dead within four minutes at the same temperature parameters. Despite these interesting results, the evidence is clear. A dry heat wash on a temperature higher than 54°C will eradicate all ticks on your clothing. This is well within the range of most modern appliances, so you shouldn’t need to procure any new technology to keep your clothing tick-free.
On the other end of the scale, freezing temperatures can easily kill a tick. Lab tests have shown that ticks perish anywhere between -2 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit, or -19 to -10 degrees Celsius. So if you absolutely can’t wash your clothes on high heat, then you can place them in your freezer for an extended period of time (around 48 hours). However, the evidence regarding ticks dying in extreme cold temperatures is less solid than high temperatures. This is because different ticks adapt slightly to different geographical locations. If the natural climate of their habitat is colder, for instance, they may survive a couple of degrees lower than a tick used to warmer weather. So the best way to eradicate ticks is most definitely dry heat above 54°C.
Interestingly, temperature is potentially playing a big part in the epidemic of Lyme disease. Because of global warming, winters aren’t as cold as they used to be (some freak cold snaps not withstanding). This means more ticks are surviving in the winter, increasing their numbers in the spring and summer months, which are the true feeding seasons for them. This is true all over the globe; instances of reported Lyme disease are increasing worldwide. This can partly be attributed to higher visibility of the disease as a whole, but it is also indicative of a growing epidemic. This epidemic is being largely ignored by the wider medical community. Only a few specialists labs, like BCA-clinic in Augsburg, Germany, are truly learned in the diagnosis and treatment of chronic Lyme disease. Unfortunately for patients, specialists like these are few and far between.
Awareness of the mechanisms of the disease is paramount in preventing it. We still do not know a lot about chronic Lyme disease, and how it operates. We do know, however, exactly how people catch it: through tick bites. If you find a tick attached to your body, or you’re worried one could be caught your clothes, take steps to remove it. Then, watch out for initial symptoms, which will resemble a common flu. A bullseye rash might also be present at the site of the bite. Acute Lyme, the early form of the disease, is easily treatable, even if you catch it. The problems start when the bacteria is given the chance to mutate into the chronic form. By cutting Lyme off at this early stage, or preventing ticks from biting us at all, we can take steps towards stemming the flow of this debilitating disorder.