Now that spring is here, I think everyone is enjoying the warmer weather. I know I have plans for more hikes now that it’s not freezing outside. Of course, we’re not alone in enjoying the warmer weather. Things such as birds, wildlife, pets and oh yes…. ticks. Adult ticks have been active here in Pennsylvania since March but we haven’t really seen any because we haven’t been outside much. Now that the weather is staying warmer, those little creepy crawlies are out enjoying our yard. I found one on me yesterday! Although it probably came in on one of our dogs, they also could have just as easily hitched a ride on one of us. Ugh, out of all the bugs I really hate ticks!
There are good reasons to not like ticks. They’re ugly, they attach on to your body, they suck your blood, and – last but definitely not least – the biggest reason is probably the fact they can transmit so many different diseases. Different types of ticks carry different diseases. Here in Pennsylvania, we have a lot of deer ticks that carry Lyme Disease. Dog ticks can carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever found more in the western states. Different areas of the country have different types of ticks and diseases they carry. If you want to learn more about the types of diseases ticks carry, there is a lot of good information on the CDC website here: https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/diseases/index.html.
So many of us like to hike in places that ticks love to live in and are searching for their next meal. What can we do to try to keep them from attaching to us? Here are some recommendations I’ve found and things that I do. First know where they hang out. Ticks like to live where it is grassy, brushy or wooded so basically anywhere you might be walking outside. It will be hard to avoid going in those areas if you like to hike. Second, you can treat your clothing and your gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin. According to the CDC website, one treatment should last through several washings. For your body, you can use insect repellants that contain DEET, picaridin, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone. There is an excellent list on the EPA website of repellents that has the main ingredient, the manufacturer, the name of the product and how long it lasts. That list can be found here: https://www.epa.gov/insect-repellents/find-repellent-right-you. Personally I spray myself down with Deep Woods Off. It has DEET in it. I am not a huge fan of putting chemicals on my body, but I haven’t had a bad reaction to it and it is very effective at keeping the ticks off me.
Another recommendation is to check your body over during your hike and after you finish for ticks. Use your eyes and your hands as you check. Some ticks are as small as the head of a pin, so run your hands over your body as well. I have found ticks in every location except my bellybutton. The thought of finding one there totally grosses me out! Don’t forget to check your furry hiking companion for ticks too.
So what do you do if you have a tick attached to you? I know there are a lot of folk lore recommendations like burning off the tick or smothering them in Vaseline making them release, but the best thing to do is to remove it as soon as possible once you discover it attached. The longer an infected tick is attached to you, the more likely it will infect you. The best method is to use clean fine tweezers, grasping the tick as close to the head as possible and pulling it straight out. Clean the bite site with soap and water or rubbing alcohol. You can dispose of the tick by flushing it down the toilet or putting it in rubbing alcohol. The CDC does recommend monitoring for symptoms of tick-borne illnesses for thirty days after the tick bite. Symptoms could be fever, a rash near the wound, fatigue, muscle pain, joint pain or headache. If you experience symptoms, you should contact your primary care giver and be tested. Most diseases from ticks can be cleared up with a round of antibiotics but the sooner you are tested the better.
Do you have the creepy crawlies yet? Okay, so ticks are not good and more than a little scary, but knowledge is power. Now you know what to do to prepare, what to avoid, and how to hit the trails (and your back yard) with confidence!