The cooler weather of late summer and fall brings out hikers in droves. But they face a hidden danger – ticks. For such tiny creatures, these critters sure can cause a cart-load of problems, including permanent disability, Lyme disease and a variety of other diseases with tongue-twisting names like babesiosis and ehrlichiosis or the adventurous sounding Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Actually, you can get a bite at almost any time of year when you’re outdoors, gardening, hiking, camping or just playing. Ticks can infect you with bacteria, viruses and parasites. If you get bitten and subsequently suffer a fever or rash you should seek immediate medical attention.
To avoid the distress, follow a few simple precautions before you go outdoors, while you’re outside and when you return.
- First, make sure you know if they’re particularly prevalent in the area you’re using. Often, signs are posted in parks and on trails.
- If you think there could be a risk, treat boots and clothing with a tick-killer like permethrin. Use it on camping gear too. You can also use a repellent such as DEET.
- Wear protective clothing. Shorts are not a good idea if you’re going to be in tick territory.
- Watch where you’re walking. You’re more at risk if you veer off pathways into bushes, long grass and leaf litter.
When you get back home, you’re not necessarily safe. Ticks can attach themselves to clothing or exposed parts of the body.
So, check your clothing and your body (especially under arms, in and around ears, behind your knees and in your hair). Or better yet, have someone else visually check. If it’s convenient, take a shower as soon as you can after being out walking.
If you do discover an attached tick, try to grab it with tweezers, as close to the skin as possible and pull upward with steady, even pressure. Then clean the skin area with rubbing alcohol or even soap and water.
Folklore remedies like using nail polish or petroleum jelly to smother ticks don’t really work.
And whatever you do, don’t crush the pesky creature with your fingers. Instead, put it in a sealed bag or wrap it tightly in sticky tape.
If you were bitten, the risk of an infection depends on the type of tick and how long it was attached to your skin. So watch for symptoms over the subsequent 10 days.
By the way, if you’ve previously been vaccinated against Lyme disease, you’re probably no longer protected as its benefits fade over time. The vaccine itself is no longer available.