Tick Uptick in Summer 2017: Why You Should Care (and How to Protect Yourself)

5/30/17 by Jhoni Jackson

Summertime brings plenty to celebrate: balmy nights, barbecues, relaxing vacations, outdoor exploration galore. Indeed, the possibilities for open-air adventure are at their peak this time of year. Unfortunately, though, so are the risks of running into serious bug-related problems.

One of the worst pests that hits peak peskiness in warm weather: nasty, blood-sucking ticks. May and June are the arachnids’ favorite months to procreate—right about when lakeside camping, off-the-beaten path exploring, trail hiking, and other outdoor adventures become especially idyllic. Not every tick carries disease, of course, but for those that do, a bite can cause serious illness or even death.

And this summer, there’s reason to take extra caution, as experts predict a rise in tick infections following several warmer winters. Fears over a rare but potentially life-threatening tick-borne disease called Powassan also have made several headlines.

Thankfully, however, there are ways you can lower your risk. Like any other summer bummer (heatstroke or sunburns, for example), getting bit by a tick is preventable. Read on for tips on how to lower your risk—so you can focus on the summer adventures ahead.

1. Anticipate ticks’ presence everywhere outside.

Ticks are prevalent in wooded areas, and can also be found on undisturbed areas like fallen logs.
Ticks are prevalent in wooded areas, and can also be found on undisturbed areas like fallen logs. Photo courtesy of ExOfficio/Curtis Wiklund

Let’s first dispel the common presumption that ticks are only found in densely wooded areas. They can be rampant in those parts, sure, but it’s not the only type of environment in which they thrive. Ticks can live in leaf piles and on shrubs, both of which could be found around a typical home.

Shady areas are prone to ticks, too. Anyplace outdoors that’s generally unbothered—thick foliage or fallen logs, for example—could also be a breeding ground. And ticks don’t fall from trees, by the way; that’s a myth. Ticks actually crawl upward, so if you find one on your head, it most definitely journeyed there from below. In other words, be aware of your surroundings, not what’s above them.

Make sure you think about the conditions in which you’ll find them, too, since weather has a strong influence on tick populations. They love humid environments; intense heat and very dry weather, not so much.

The kind of ticks you might find on dogs aren’t likely to carry illnesses (though you should still be cautious, and always keep your pets on the appropriate meds). Deer ticks, however, especially on adult female hosts, are very likely to carry diseases like Lyme and anaplasmosis, as well as the parasite babesiosis.

2. Create body armor with anti-tick clothing.

ExOfficio’s Bugsaway clothing adds an extra layer of protection against ticks.
ExOfficio’s Bugsaway clothing adds an extra layer of protection against ticks. Photo courtesy of ExOfficio/Curtis Wiklund

Effective tick protection starts with your clothing: the kind that’s treated with permethrin, an insecticide and repellent, that helps repel ticks (and other bugs, too). ExOfficio’s Bugsaway clothing does just that: It’s specially designed with Permethrin, which provides an odorless, invisible yet highly effective shield against the pesky pests.

In addition, you can add an extra layer of protection anytime you’re going outdoors by applying a repellent with DEET. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend a repellent with at least 20 percent DEET. If you’re wearing sunscreen—as you should be for your summer adventures—apply it first, then repellent. And be sure to read the instructions specific to the repellent you buy; reapplication times especially can vary by brand.

Shop Men's Shop Women's

3. Always check for ticks after possible exposure.

After you’ve been out in the woods, meticulously examine your entire body—every nook and cranny. Use a mirror or a pal to check your skin thoroughly for ticks. Bites are painless, so you need to actively examine yourself to be sure. One could be nestled in your armpit, behind your knees, on your neck, in your belly button, on your scalp, between your legs, or around your ears.

Try to shower immediately after being outdoors. Be sure to check your clothes for hangers-on, too. You If possible, tumble dry the clothes on high heat for 10 minutes, or just go ahead and throw them all in the wash. And use the hot water setting, which will kill the little buggers.

4. Remove ticks the right way, right away.

Forget the old-school ways you’ve heard about removing a tick: burning it out or smothering it in petroleum jelly or nail polish. According to the CDC, the proper way to remove a tick is with fine-tipped tweezers, plucking that blood-sucker from as close to the skin as possible. Pull upward steadily; if you rip or twist, you’ll likely leave part of the tick behind. (If its mouth gets stuck, leave it be. Your skin will heal over it.)

When you’re done, clean the bite and your hands with rubbing alcohol, disinfectant soap, or an iodine scrub. Flush the tick or, if you’re far from a working toilet, dispose of it by placing it in a tightly sealed plastic bag (add tape if you need to) and throw it away. (Feel free to revenge stomp—with shoes on—beforehand.) Maybe this goes without saying, but do not crush the tick between your fingers. And toss those tweezers to avoid accidentally reusing.

5. Stay smart while outside.

Any time you’re outdoors, be sure to closely check your body for ticks afterward.
Any time you’re outdoors, be sure to closely check your body for ticks afterward. Photo courtesy of ExOfficio/Curtis Wiklund

There are strategies you can use while in the outdoors to minimize your risk of tick exposure. First off, avoid tick-infested areas when you can. And when you’re in the outdoors, be sure to walk in the center of trails, don’t brush up against foliage, and avoid sitting and resting on logs along the way. Remember the humidity factor, and that ticks also gravitate toward shady, undisturbed areas.

At home, get rid of leave piles and mow or eliminate tall grass. Create a barrier between wooded areas and your yard with gravel or wood chips. And don’t forget about Fido: Keep your pets on tick prevention medicine.

6. If you’ve been bitten, keep a close eye on the warning signs of infection.

Tick-borne diseases—Lyme, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis are the most common, although the previously mentioned Powassan is on the rise—generally present with flu-like symptoms: Fever, chills and sweats, body aches, appetite loss, fatigue, nausea, muscle pain, cough, and headache. Lyme disease specifically can result in a circular rash around the bite area that develops within three to 30 days, and can grow up to 12 inches across.

Left untreated, things can get ugly. Ailments including swelling in the knees and other large joints, heart palpitations, brain and spinal inflammation, nerve pain, short-term memory issues, and dizzy spells are all possible. In a worst-case scenario, a tick bite can be life-threatening.

The period for vigilance after removing a tick lasts several weeks. If you notice any of these symptoms, see a doctor immediately.

Originally written by RootsRated for ExOfficio.