Concerned About Tick Prevention While Hiking?
Tick prevention while hiking is important to keep in mind! From the first hint of Spring, our feet get itchy to hit the trail. As the world turns green, it calls us to come out and play in the wonder of nature unfolding. Life is fresh and new…and crawling with ticks.
Ticks: The Ticking Time Bomb
Ticks are members of the Arachnid family. They live in damp, wooded places where they seek living creatures upon which to feed and travel. The creepy little brown vampires survive on blood from different hosts at every stage of their lifecycle.
The tick starts as an egg which hatches into a six-legged larva. The larvae attach themselves to a live host, such as deer, rabbits, rodents, or dogs, and feed until they molt into eight-legged nymphs.
The nymphs seek a new host and, at this stage, are capable of biting humans, as well as animals. As the nymphs mature into adults, they seek a third host. If they are successful, they are capable of mating and reproducing. This process may take up to three years to achieve.
Graph, courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
When a tick eats its fill of blood, it simply drops off and lives off the glut until it can find another host. The vast majority of ticks fail to find a host and starve to death. Of the small percentage of ticks that do survive, relatively few actually, carry diseases that may be transmitted to humans and their pets.
Having said, tick-borne diseases may be very serious. Different species in different parts of the country carry different diseases, but they are all definitely best avoided.
Many tick-borne diseases are limited to the areas in which each species is found. Several serious diseases are transmitted by ticks throughout the country, these include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Tularemia.
Lyme disease is transmitted through tick bites. The symptoms include fatigue, fever, headache, and skin rash. If left untreated, Lyme disease may spread into the nervous system, heart, or joints. The disease is difficult to diagnose but may be treated with several weeks of antibiotics, if caught in time.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever produces flu-like symptoms from the onset and is often characterized by a spotty skin rash. If untreated, RMSF can quickly become life-threatening. Amputations due to blood vessel damage, hearing loss, and paralysis have been known to result from failure to treat the disease.
Tularemia may be mild to life-threatening. It may be accompanied by a fever of up to 104 degrees F. and may cause ulcers to the skin, glands, or eyes if contact is made through a bite, or contamination by handling infected animals.
That Good Ol’ Ounce Of Prevention
Learning how to avoid ticks is the first step toward preventing bites. Ticks tend to stay in moist, wooded areas with lots of shade and foliage. This allows them to perch for attack as an unwitting host passes by.
Living near wildland interface areas draws ticks and their hosts into our personal spaces. Maintaining a safe zone starts with a three-foot-wide perimeter of wood chips or gravel. Keeping the lawn mowed and removing debris that harbors rodents and their parasites will slow the tick invasion. Fencing out hosts, such as rabbits, raccoons, and deer prevents them from crossing the border with impunity.
Chemical acaricides (tick pesticides) for broad dispersal are available, but environmental safety issues lie at the core of these tactics, and other methods of tick mitigation are preferred. If you do decide to use chemical pesticides, it is advisable to contact a local professional.
Your first line of tick prevention while hiking is figuring out how to avoid ticks. Whether out hiking or in your own backyard, keeping your distance from bushes, tall grasses, and leafy branches will keep the potential contact to a minimum. Stay to the center of trails when hiking and don’t sit directly on the ground or on logs.
Insect repellents containing a minimum of 20% DEET or picaridin can be applied to exposed skin. these are effective for several hours and may be reapplied as needed.
The best tick prevention while hiking may be tick repellent clothing. You may apply Permethrin, a widely available insecticide that is found naturally in flowers, such as marigolds, to your own clothes. The Permethrin must be reapplied after every washing to maintain its effectiveness.
Some outdoor apparel and accessory companies have also developed tick repellent clothing that is impregnated with Permethrin that lasts through several washings. There are hats, neck gaiters, balaclavas, and sleeves.
Don’t let ticks keep you ticked off or tucked inside. Follow these precautions and tick them off instead!