Ticks 101

Of all the critters one may encounter in the woods, ticks are among the most dreaded. The Centers for Disease Control lists 10 different diseases carried and spread by American ticks alone, and thanks to their near-microscopic size, chances are you won’t notice these pesky arachnids until they’ve achieved ‘passenger status.’ Thankfully, there are measures you can take to ensure your outdoor excursion isn’t ruined by ticks.

Tick Prevention
As dangerous as ticks are, many campers have reservations about coating their bodies in DEET-filled repellents to ward off the little bloodsuckers. A recent study showed that toxicants (such as permethrin) are much more effective at keeping ticks away when applied to shoes – 74 times more effective than untreated shoes, to be exact. The reason is simple: most ticks gain access to their hosts by latching onto shoes and crawling up feet and legs. The same study revealed that permethrin-treated shorts and T-shirts were five and three times more effective, respectively, than untreated attire.

Tick Removal
Unfortunately, permethrin-treated clothing is not 100-percent effective, and many hikers and campers will return home with ticks. There are lots of ‘old wives tale methods’ for removing ticks, from nail polish to lit matches. But the CDC says all you need to effectively rid yourself of a tick is a good ol’ fashioned pair of tweezers.

First, use the tweezers to squeeze the tick’s body as closely to your skin as possible. Once you have established a firm grip, pull slowly and upward. Do not simply yank it out – even if you succeed at killing the tick by separating its head from its body, the tick can still spread infections through its salivary glands. Once it has been plucked out, thoroughly wash the area with hot water, soap and alcohol. Monitor the bitten area for a few days to ensure no infections develop.

Tick-borne Diseases
You’ve removed the tick, but you’re still concerned about potential health risks. The most commonly reported tick-borne illnesses include:

Lyme Disease is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacteria spread by blacklegged ticks. Symptoms include fever, constant headaches, body fatigue and erythema migrans, a distinctive skin rash that resembles a red bull’s eye. If it goes untreated, lyme disease can spread to the joints, heart and nervous system.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is spread by dog ticks throughout North and South America. Early stage symptoms include chronic headaches and muscle pain, as well as frequent vomiting. If RMSF is not treated within the first few days, it can quickly develop into a fatal condition; most physicians prescribe a regimen of Doxycyclin for adults and children.

Tick-borne Relapsing Fever has been reported in 15 states across the Western United States. The fever relapses can last for days, followed by periods where no fever is present; the cycle can repeat up to four times. Other symptoms include body aches, light sensitivity, rash and neck pain.

Have you ever had an encounter with a tick? What was your experience?

By Brad Nehring