Along with the beautiful summertime weather comes the urge to spend more time outdoors. People have a strong desire to participate in recreational activities such as hiking, camping, and mountain biking, to get active and take advantage of their surroundings.
These activities can all be extremely fun and very safe; however, especially during the late spring and early summer months, the tick season is in full bloom. Many individuals fail to acknowledge the health risks that ticks pose. Though they are usually harmless, some ticks carry infectious diseases such as Lyme Disease.
Lyme Disease, if caught early enough, is generally reversible. Early stage symptoms include headache, fatigue, and nausea. During this stage, the infection can be stopped and eliminated from the body through the administration of antibiotics.
As the infection progresses, much more serious symptoms arise, which are oftentimes untreatable, irreversible, and debilitating. These symptoms include problems with the heart, joints, and central nervous system. Early detection is key when dealing with Lyme Disease.
The best way to prevent the spread of Lyme Disease, and to keep yourself from getting infected, is to play it safe during the spring and summer months as you are enjoying the outdoors.
Certain species of ticks (such as deer ticks) are more likely to carry
the agents of an infectious disease, but all ticks should be avoided. Here are a few pointers on how to keep yourself safe from ticks and the infectious diseases that they carry.
1. Cover as much skin as possible. In the summer heat, this can be a hard guideline to follow. Pants and long sleeve shirts should be worn when you are spending time in the woods, as ticks search for exposed skin to latch onto. Avoid clothes with holes, as they provide more entrances, and therefore a higher risk, for ticks to reach your skin. Wearing extra clothing in the heat is unimaginable for some, yet by minimizing the amount of skin that is readily exposed, you are minimizing your risk of being bit by ticks. This practice will also keep you from getting scratched up while tromping through the woods. A little heat in exchange for a lower risk of contracting infectious diseases is definitely worth it.
2. Tuck in your clothes. This tip expands the guidelines from tip #1. If your skin is covered, but you have an open shirt and wide pant legs, it is still relatively easy for ticks to find their way to your skin. Tuck your shirt into your pants and wear a belt to help keep ticks away from your waistline. Similarly, you should either tuck your pant leg into your boots, shoes, or socks, or, if that is not possible, place a rubber band around each ankle. This may seem silly, but it will severely restrict a tick's options. Ultimately, it is much nicer to find a tick crawling on your sleeve than stuck to your arm.
3. Avoid areas that attract ticks. It is rare that you will find ticks in your own lawn or any areas that contain short, well-maintained grass. Ticks prefer areas with tall grass and damp environments. This is why tick season starts in late spring, and tapers off in mid summer. As the year progresses, the environment becomes warmer and more dry, and therefore less favorable for ticks. It is impossible to avoid all ticks, but you can try to avoid fields and riverbanks with extremely long grass. If you can't avoid the area, no big deal! Adhering to the tick-prevention factors that you can control (such as changing your wardrobe), is the most important part of reducing your risk for infectious diseases. Avoiding environments that promote tick growth is beneficial, but this should not stop you from enjoying your adventure. Be aware of your surroundings and the likelihood that there are ticks nearby. This will help you remember to check for ticks when you get home.
4. Wear bug repellent. Lotions or sprays that contain DEET are very effective when it comes to keeping ticks and other bugs away. Some companies have actually created tick-specific bug repellent. Other options include sprays specialized for clothing. There are many options to further repel ticks. Regardless of the type of bug spray you are going to use, make sure to apply it before your next adventure through the woods.
5. Check yourself. After you spend any amount of time in the woods, whether that be 10 minutes or 10 hours, check yourself. Stand in front of a mirror and carefully check yourself for ticks. Look for ticks especially near the armpits and back of the knees. Have a friend or family member check your back and search your hair. Ticks can be extremely small, so make sure you are slowly and thoroughly examining your skin. A tick-check only takes a couple of minutes, and is definitely worth preventing your contraction of any infectious diseases.
6. Monitor any bites. If you do find a tick on your body, and it is stuck to you, remove it immediately. Using tweezers, remove the tick by grabbing it as near to your skin as possible and firmly pulling. Check to see if the tick is fully intact or if you see anything left in your skin, as ticks oftentimes leave pieces of their jaw in the skin when pulled out involuntarily. Some individuals argue that you should keep the tick in a plastic bag and have a doctor make sure that it is intact. This may also allow them to test the tick for disease prevalence. Whether or not you go this far is up to you. Either way, monitor the site of the bite for the next few days, looking for any changes in the area. A red "bulls-eye" rash is associated with Lyme Disease. If any strange changes occur to the area, check with a doctor.
These are a few basic tips that will help you stay safe throughout the tick season. You may not look the most stylish, but you will be drastically reducing your risk of contracting tick-borne illness.