Things to Know about Ticks
From a young age, I’ve always had an interest in wilderness survival. I have some small amount of practical knowledge from my years of reading survival books as a child. True wilderness survival training takes much more than being an armchair general. It takes an intense amount of work, time, and physical fitness. Thankfully, most of us will never encounter a time that we need that kind of training (especially while doing through-hiking in CT). All of us carry on the trail the one thing we need to get help: a cell phone. Most places in CT have cell service of one kind or another. This would probably be a good time to say that if you don’t carry a cell phone with you, you really should. Even if you leave it turned off during the hike, it’s always good to have a method to call for help if needed. You never know what could happen. Each year there are at least a handful of news clippings about people wandering off the trail and needing park rangers to come rescue them. While embarrassing, it’s a whole lot better than wandering around in the dark looking for the trail and falling off a cliff. Don’t be a hiking fatality, please.
However, beyond more drastic things like wilderness survival, I think there is some information that everyone who lives in New England should know: basic information about ticks. Since I grew up here in CT, ticks and Lyme disease were an accepted part of life. I spent a lot of time in the woods and have had more tick bites than I can remember. I’ve had Lyme disease at least once and everyone in my family has as well. I also know a number of people whose lives have been permanently altered by the disease when it wasn’t caught quickly enough and had symptoms that continued long after the initial round of antibiotics. At the same time, ticks are simply a part of life. If we integrate certain strategies into our lives, we significantly decrease the risk of acquiring Lyme disease.
- When outdoors (especially while hiking or in wooded/grassy areas), wear bug spray with DEET [20% or more]. I really don’t like to wear DEET bug spray for mosquito prevention; I hate the smell and taste (it always seems to get in my mouth). What I do is spray my upper body with a plant-based repellent and my lower body with DEET, since I pick up most of my ticks by brushing against grass or plants.
- Dress in “tick-aware” clothing. This could mean wearing light-colored clothing to make it easier to spot ticks crawling on you or wearing pants and long-sleeve shirts. It can also include wearing a hat and/or putting your hair up to make it harder for ticks to latch on.
- During outdoor activities, be aware. If you feel something crawling on you, check it out. It might be your imagination or it might be a tick. If it is a tick, you can either kill it or flick it off.
- After being outdoors/hiking, go home and shower. This will help with both ticks and poison ivy. Also wash the clothes you wore; putting your clothes in the dryer on high heat for 60 minutes will kill any ticks that might have been on your clothes.
- After being outdoors/hiking, do a body check. After showering, you should check your whole body; hair, armpits, groin, backs of knees, and chest seem to be favorite places for ticks. They like warm and creased areas. If possible, have someone else check the places you can’t see. There are even country music songs about it.
- Know what they look like. There are two types of ticks common in CT. One is the Dog tick and is about the size of an apple seed. The other is the Deer tick and is about the size of a sesame seed. The smaller, sneakier Deer tick is most likely to be a carrier for Lyme.
- Don’t panic (grab your towel. It might help).
- Find tweezers. The best type are fine-tipped with no ridges.
- Grasp the tick as close to your skin as you can. This will help remove the entire tick at once. If you grab too high, it might leave behind its mouth. DON’T: twist, jerk, or squeeze the tick, cover the tick with petroleum jelly, douse it with gasoline/kerosene, or try to light it on fire. This will make the tick more likely to “throw up” everything in its system, increasing your risk for Lyme.
- Gently and steadily pull the tick straight up. This should remove the tick from your skin.
- Dispose of the tick. This could include flushing it down the toilet (might not kill it) or dousing it with some alcohol to kill it and then flushing it.
- Clean up. Wash the area with soap and warm water or use some kind of antiseptic like rubbing alcohol or first-aid wash like Bactine. If the tick did leave behind its mouth, attempt to remove it with the tweezers. If this is unsuccessful, don’t stress it. Let your skin heal on its own; it will expel the mouth as it heals.
- Wait/watch. At this point, the best thing you can do is wait. You can write down the day and location of your tick bite for future reference if you’d like. You should be especially aware of unusual fatigue, aches and pain, headaches, fever, and rashes. Around 80-90% of people with Lyme disease have a target-like rash surrounding the bite called erythema migrans. If you begin experiencing any of these symptoms or have a rash, see a doctor immediately. It isn’t really ER-worthy but if it’s after hours and your doctor is unavailable, check out your nearest walk-in clinic.