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Outdoor activities like hunting, fishing, or hiking, present an opportunity to unwind and spend time outdoors with your friends or family, as you enjoy fresh air, beautiful sceneries and the best of what nature has to offer. However, venturing outdoors, especially during the warmer months, comes with the risk of tick bites. And bites from some types of ticks such as the deer tick or the black-legged tick can cause Lyme disease. But tick bites should not prevent you from enjoying your favorite outdoor activity. If you are planning to venture outdoors, here are some tips that will help you to avoid Lyme disease.
Research Your Hiking Destination
Whether you are a veteran hiker or you are going for your first hiking trip, it’s always important to research your hiking destination prior to the trip – especially if you are going to unfamiliar territory or you are planning to tackle a new trail. Make sure you arm yourself with as much information as possible about your hiking destination. The black-legged tick or the deer tick tends to thrive in woodlands or areas with high mice and deer population. Also, they are most active during fall and spring, due to the warm and humid conditions during these months. If your preferred hiking destination has these conditions, then it’s highly advisable to stay away and choose an alternative trail with a lower prevalence of ticks.
Wear Protective Clothing
Ticks are present in almost all trails. Therefore, wearing clothes that cover your skin adequately can prevent exposure to black-legged ticks – the type that causes Lyme’s disease. If you will be hiking in grassy or bushy areas, you need to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts so that your skin is not exposed. Avoid hiking in shorts, if you will be trekking in areas that have a high tick population. Also, make sure you tuck in your pants to your socks and tuck in your shirt or t-shirt into your pants. Tucking in your shirt and your pants will make it harder for black-legged ticks from crawling up your legs or finding a way in. You can further deter ticks from hitchhiking on your hiking gear or apparel by purchasing apparel that has already been pre-treated with permethrin. Permethrin is a highly effective insecticide, which works by preventing a wide range of bugs like ticks, mosquitoes, and blackflies. This insecticide will deter bugs for up to 70 washes.
Carry an Insect Repellent
Whether you are going for a one-day hike or you will be spending the entire summer in the wilderness, it’s always advisable to carry an insect repellent during your outdoor adventures. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), you should use insect repellents that contain picaridin, DEET or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Insect repellents with these ingredients provide the most effective protection against Lyme-causing ticks. Whichever product you choose, make sure that it can last for at least 60 minutes or more of full protection its first application. DEET-based insect repellents, even those that have lower concentrations will provide 90 minutes or more of complete protection with the first application.
The duration of protection will depend on your level of activity. For instance, if you are just lying on your hammock, then the protection can last for 120 minutes or even more. On the other hand, if you are engaging in a sweaty activity like ascending a mountain or trail running, then the same product will only last for 30 minutes or less. You should also note that some products contain chemicals or substances that can irritate your skin, ears, nose, eyes, and mouth. If you encounter such a product, make sure you use lower concentration. Also, you should first apply the product on your hands before using it on your face or other sensitive areas. Only use EPA-approved insect repellents and make sure you read the product label before applying them.
Repellent lotions tend to last significantly longer compared to sprays of similar concentrations, since they are rubbed directly on the skin, thus minimizing loss through evaporation. Also, applying insect repellents as lotions is more accurate as opposed to spraying them. Whichever method you choose, never allow your children to apply their own repellent. Also, avoid applying the repellent on children’s hands, since they might rub their nose, ears, eyes and other sensitive areas using those hands, leading to serious complications.
Inspect Yourself Regularly
The risk of contracting Lyme’s disease increases the longer the tick remains attached to your skin. Therefore, it’s important to conduct regular checks so that you can remove the ticks as soon as possible. Underarms, behind the knees, the navel, scalp, buttocks, back, and groin are among the most common areas of attachment. You can perform tick checks via physical inspections and visual inspections. You should also check them in your clothes, your hiking gear or any other accessories that you have during your hike, where these ticks can attach themselves. In case you find any tick, make sure you remove them immediately using the right removal methods. If you are hiking with a dog, then you also need to check them for ticks. Ticks might spread from your dog to your skin, leading to Lyme’s disease. Therefore, don’t leave anything to chance during these inspections.
Minimize Exposure to Ticks
While this might sound like a cliché, prevention is always better than cure. And the same case applies to Lyme disease. If you want to minimize the chances of getting Lyme disease, then you need to prevent tick bites as much as possible when hiking. So, how can you prevent tick bites during your outdoor adventures? First, make sure you stay on the trail as much as you can. A well-trodden, regularly-used trail will have fewer ticks compared to trails with underbrush or tall grass. While you might be tempted to explore other areas during your trail, avoid grassy, wooded areas. Second, make sure you always check whether you sit or sleep. Even when you are taking your lunch or having a snack, don’t just sit anywhere. Instead, opt for open areas that don’t have plenty of vegetation. Also, avoid leaning against trees, since black-legged ticks might be hiding in such places. If you have to take a nap during your break, ensure you check your clothes, skin and hiking gear thoroughly before you proceed with your journey.
Remove Attached Ticks Immediately
It’s almost impossible to avoid ticks completely when you are out there in the wilderness. Therefore, if a tick has already attached itself to your skin, you don’t have to panic. Instead, you should remove it as fast as possible, to minimize the chances of getting Lyme disease. However, it’s important to follow certain guidelines to prevent spreading the infection to the rest of your body. Make sure you use a pair of fine-tipped tweezers to grab the tick. Once you’ve grabbed the tick, you then need to pull it upward, while applying even, steady pressure. Avoid jerking or twisting the tick during the removal process, as the mouthparts might break off and remain on your skin. If the mouthparts remain lodged on your skin, you need to remove them also using a clean pair of tweezers. Don’t leave any fragments of the tick on your body. After that, you just need to clean the affected area thoroughly, and then rub your hands with soap and water or alcohol. Never remove a tick from your skin using your fingers. You then need to dispose of the tick you’ve removed by putting it in a container with alcohol and then sealing it completely.
Check Everything After Arriving Home
Even after using all the above measures, you might still carry some ticks home. And if you are not careful, they might end up multiplying in your home or backyard, thus increasing the chances of contracting Lyme disease. To avoid such a scenario, make sure you check everything that you used during the hike – from your backpack, clothes and everything else. After that, you should then remove your clothes and then toss them in a hot dryer. Don’t mix them with the others. Once you’ve blasted your hiking gear with enough heat, any tick that is present will die in the hot dryer. You then need to take a shower straight away so that you can remove all ticks that might still be lodged on your skin. The faster you take a shower, the sooner you can minimize the risk of contracting Lyme disease. You should then conduct a final inspection on your body, your clothes, your boots and everything else.
If you recently went for a hike and you’ve started to experience symptoms like joint pain, headaches, rashes, fatigue, fever, and chills, or you’ve noticed some red marks on your skin, there is a high chance that you might have been bitten by deer ticks and you might already have Lyme disease. Lyme disease should not be taken lightly. Therefore, make sure you visit a doctor as soon as possible so that you can be treated.