Hazards on the trail: Ticks

Generally, getting out on the trail is fun, but there are a few things to make sure you’re aware of to keep your trail experience a good one. First one we’ll be looking into – ticks.

So we’re in the midst of tick season. They’re most active from about April to September, and this year in Kansas, since it’s been particularly dry, they’re out in full force.  While they can carry diseases like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever,  they’re relatively easy to deal with if you know what to do.

Prevent the bite: These little buggers DSC05680(and they are little!) while latch onto you as you walk through grass and underbrush. Walking in the center of the trail can often help with this, but some of the trails in Kansas have some higher grass or leaf litter that can’t be avoided. Wear long pants and ignore all concerns of fashion or style and tuck your pant legs into your socks. The less bare skin you leave for the ticks, the better.

Ticks get on you near your feet and lower legs, so that’s where to keep an eye out first. If you’re walking in or near high grass, do a visual scan every so often and flick off any ticks before they have the opportunity to find a place on your skin to bite. Trying to smash them won’t work like smacking a mosquito, so make sure you pull them off your skin or clothes and get rid of them.

Spraying with DEET is more effective for bugs like mosquitoes and flies; permethrin has been known to be more effective as a tick repellent, and it can only be used on fabric. So you can pre-treat clothing with a permethrin spray (takes 2-4 hours to dry so plan ahead) or buy clothing already treated with it.

If you get bitten: First thing to know, and which was particularly reassuring to me the first time I heard it, is that (a) not only do not all ticks carry disease but (b) it takes several hours after a tick has bitten to transmit a disease. So if you do a thorough tick check after being out on the trail, looking everywhere and paying particular attention to “tight” places, you can have a high chance of avoiding disease even if a tick has bitten. Check once, then check again. Don’t think a shower will get them off – you may have to pluck them off.

Finding a tick that has bitten in can be unnerving, and there are lots of tales about how to best remove them: from smothering them with vaseline or using a hot match. The quickest and best way, however, and the one that’s recommended by the CDC and any and all medical professionals I’ve asked (limited, I know, as it was two registered nurses in my family), is to use tweezers. Place the tweezers around the tick as close to your skin as possible and pull it firmly away from you, removing the head along with the tick’s body. Then treating the spot with a bit of rubbing alcohol or antibiotic ointment won’t hurt.

If you get a red rash or a fever in the days or weeks after getting bitten by a tick, check in with your doctor and make sure to tell them about your tick bite and let them know where you were on the trail when you were bitten.

2 thoughts on “Hazards on the trail: Ticks

  1. Gross! Don’t forget to get to a doctor. I just got bit by a deer tick, and they recommended antibiotics ASAP, which will greatly lower your chance of getting lyme disease. Hike on!!! 😉

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