Understanding and preventing tick bites

As people spend more time outdoors, so do many insects and pests. Among them are ticks, which are small bloodsucking parasites and arthropods.

Some diseases you can get from a tick bite are Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and tularemia.

One of the biggest things to keep in mind when thinking about the risk of tick bites is your location. Different regions in the U.S. are home to various types of ticks. The type or species of a tick determines what diseases it may carry.

NIH MedlinePlus magazine spoke with two officials at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to find out more about tick bites, how to avoid them, and new research that could increase our understanding of how to treat tick-related conditions.

Types of ticks

The deer tick (Ixodes scapulars) is found mainly in the Eastern and upper Midwestern regions of the U.S. It can cause conditions like Lyme disease and babesiosis.

The dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) is found in the Eastern half of the U.S. and can cause diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia. There have been reports of dog ticks as far west as California.

The lone star tick (Ambylomma americanum) lives in the Northeast and Midwest regions of the U.S. It carries diseases such as ehrlichiosis and Southern tick associated rash illness.

Location, location, location

“The east coast here in the U.S., parts of the south and Midwest, and even in California you have the major disease, which is Lyme disease,” said José Ribeiro, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the Vector Biology Section of the Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research in NIAID’s Division of Intramural Research. “People should be aware of ticks and where they can encounter them. In other parts of the country you have other diseases, like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever in the Rocky Mountains, and so on.”

Online maps that show tick activity in different regions of the country can be helpful in understanding the risk in your region.

Prevention is a top priority

Maliha Ilias, Ph.D., Lyme Disease Research Program Officer in NIAID’s Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, said it is important to prevent ticks from coming into contact with your skin.

Dr. Ilias discussed that there are ways to prevent exposure to ticks. She noted that the best way to do this is wear clothing that covers your arms and legs; tuck your pants into your socks or even put tape around openings in clothing so ticks have no access; and wear light-colored clothing to also help you see if a tick is on you. When you are in the woods, keep to the center of the trail, where ticks are less likely to be (ticks tend to stay in shrubs and bushes).

As soon as you are home, check yourself or have a family member help check you for ticks. Use a fine-tooth comb through your hair and check folds of the skin. You should also shower and wash your clothes at a high heat so any ticks on you are killed.

Stay calm

If you do find a tick on yourself or a family member, be sure to stay calm.

“I think the most important thing for folks to know is that if they find the tick on themselves, don’t panic,” Dr. Ilias said, noting that it typically takes 36 hours for the bacteria that causes Lyme diseases to travel from the tick gut to its salivary glands and into the host.

It is also important to remove the tick properly. “There is a lot of folklore about how to take a tick out of your skin. Some people even talk about having a lighted cigarette close by, things like that,” Dr. Ribeiro said. “The most important thing is just to use appropriate forceps such as tweezers. Grab the whole tick and pull it out.”

Saliva is a tick’s best friend

A tick’s saliva (or spit) is important in its ability to feed. A combination of compounds in a tick’s saliva stops human blood from clotting while the tick feeds.

“What we’re seeing now is ticks change the composition of their saliva every few days. So the cocktail that they’re showing on Monday will be completely different from the cocktail that will be showing up on Friday,” Dr. Ribeiro said.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health are studying the saliva of arthropods to see if there is a way to create a vaccine that will affect the saliva. A current study is looking at a vaccine that works against the saliva of sand flies, so the parasite cannot establish itself at the site of the initial bite. This sort of vaccine will be harder to develop for ticks, as the tick is constantly changing the composition of its saliva.

Early removal is key

The sooner you remove a tick, the better. It takes time for infections to reach a person’s blood stream, especially Lyme disease. A tick needs to remain attached for 36 hours before Lyme disease can be transmitted, so remove any ticks as quickly as you can.

However, you may not always know if you’ve been bitten by a tick, and therefore won’t know to keep an eye out for symptoms of tickborne disease.

Looking forward, Dr. Ilias noted the importance of a sensitive and specific diagnostic test for Lyme disease, particularly to detect it early. She added that Lyme disease can be effectively treated if it is diagnosed early.

Tick bite prevention

Tick-borne diseases occur worldwide, including in your own backyard. To help protect yourself and your family, you should:

  • Use a chemical repellent with DEET, permethrin or picaridin.
  • Wear light-colored protective clothing.
  • Tuck pant legs into socks.
  • Avoid tick-infested areas.
  • Check yourself, your children, and your pets daily for ticks and carefully remove any ticks.

Image credit: Adobe Stock

April 24, 2017

I’m walking through an English woodland. The bluebells are beginning to flower and the cuckoos are calling. It really is a great time to be outdoors. Many of the overwintering insects are stirring and the air is filled with the buzz of queen bumblebees and the song of migrant birds. The English countryside is at its best.

However, as a medical entomologist working for Public Health England I am mindful of the fact that not all wildlife is quite so appealing. Spring and summer is peak time for ticks, and at this time of year much of my time is taken up studying them: their ecology, abundance and the diseases they transmit.

Ticks are becoming much more common now across large parts of England, particularly in woodlands, along woodland edges, on heathland and moorland and in some grassland sites. Their numbers are increasing largely due to the increase in deer numbers. Reports from the public about ticks in gardens are also increasing. With deer moving into urban areas and now becoming a more common feature in gardens, they are bringing ticks with them. This is surprising for many, particularly where they have only recently become a problem.

So, what are these ticks and what can we do to stop getting bitten by them? More to the point, why are ticks a health concern?

Ticks are blood sucking members of the spider family. We have about 20 species in the UK and most of them feed on specific wild animals like bats, woodland birds, badgers and foxes. Several are only recorded from seabirds on offshore islands. In contrast though, the sheep or deer tick Ixodes ricinus feeds on practically all animals, including mammals, birds, reptiles, humans and pets (particularly dogs). This tick can be active all year, but numbers start to increase from late March, peaking in late spring and summer and will remain active until October.

The woodland that I’m walking through is perfect habitat for ticks. As well as providing a habitat for the animals they feed on, it also provides a moist microclimate for their survival. Ticks spend the majority of their three year life in the leaf litter, trying to avoid drying out. Periodically, when the conditions are right, they climb up the vegetation and ‘quest’ for animals. They can sense the carbon dioxide we breathe out, the vibrations we make as we walk and our heat. Without eyes they don’t see us. If I reach down now and inspect the grasses and flowers of this woodland track I can actually see questing ticks. They are waving their front legs around, and if I get too close and brush the vegetation they will actually climb on.

They’re after my blood and they’ve probably been waiting quite a while. They will walk up my skin until they find an area like the back of my knees, my armpits, my waist or groin and begin to feed. It’s not pleasant but you don’t actually feel it. As a father of young children with a lust for the outdoors, I’m always mindful of ticks on them, particularly around the hairline.

As I walk through this woodland I’m making sure that I keep to the middle of path and trying to avoid overhanging vegetation. Ticks don’t jump or fly. If I do brush vegetation I’m making sure that I check my legs regularly to brush the ticks off. I’m wearing pale trousers so that I can see them better, and my trousers are tucked in my socks. Wellies are also a good defence.

The reason why I work on ticks and am keen to tell you about them is that they can transmit bacteria during feeding that causes Lyme borreliosis, or Lyme disease. The infection can be serious if not treated. Symptoms of Lyme disease can include a slowly expanding circular reddish rash, flu-like feeling, fatigue, muscle and joint pain. Most cases are cleared up with a course of antibiotics but without treatment, more serious conditions such as meningitis, facial palsy, nerve damage and arthritis can develop, so prevention and early detection are crucial. The best defences against Lyme are preventing tick bites, recognising the signs of infection and receiving prompt treatment, so in addition to my regular tick checks as I walk through this woodland I will check again when I get home to make sure I have removed any feeding ticks. Ticks are very small, so are not easy to see, although after a while you get your eye in. The nymph is the size of a freckle, and the larvae are even smaller and often go unnoticed.

When I speak to people in the countryside during field work I hear lots of theories about removing ticks, like covering them in vaseline or nail varnish or burning them off. None of these are recommended as they can aggravate the tick and lead to secondary infection. I use a pair of fine tipped tweezers or a tick removal tool. The mouthparts of the tick are barbed and can be hard to remove, so a bit of force is required.

I’m leaving the woodland now, and I have been pretty diligent to remove any ticks from my trousers. My walk back to the road is along the edge of woodland and over some grassy fields. I’m still in tick habitat, so will check again before I get home. I always check at the end of a day in the countryside, and if I do find any ticks feeding I remove the tick promptly, clean the bite site with an antiseptic wipe and watch for any symptoms of Lyme disease, remembering to consult my GP if I feel unwell.

My group run a tick recording scheme and we are trying to map ticks across England to ensure that we can understand why and where they are increasing in numbers and to make sure we are alerting the public and GPs about tick awareness and tick-bite prevention. If you find a tick you can send it in to us for identification. We are also working in a range of habitats to understand what determines tick hotspots, how we can manage tick populations and what determines the prevalence of Lyme bacteria in the ticks. It’s worth remembering though that you don’t have to be in a bluebell wood to get ticks: urban parks and dog walking routes are also important habitats. Enjoy the countryside this spring, but try to remember to be tick aware.

How To Avoid Ticks While Hiking Without Wearing Like 10 Layers Of Clothing

Getting outside, breathing fresh air into your lungs, getting your heart rate up, and being one with nature on a wilderness hike is one of life’s simple pleasures. Unfortunately, the prospect of getting bitten by a tick turns that simple pleasure into a gamble with your health. Trying to avoid ticks while hiking is like trying to avoid cars while driving, the chances are you’ll at least come close to a tick.

The trick is figuring out how to enjoy nature, without interacting with it too much. In order to hike and avoid ticks, you have to take a lot of precautions and also know that no matter how much you protect yourself, there’s always a chance you’ll still get bitten. So understanding as much as you can about ticks, where they like to hang out, how they find their way onto your body, and how to properly remove them and care for yourself if you do get bitten is the key.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2017, there were 42,743 reported cases of Lyme Disease and nearly 18,000 addition kinds of tick-borne illnesses in the U.S. alone. The number is more than 10,000 more than 2016, which scientists believe is both due to an increase in ticks and an increase in awareness about tick-borne illnesses in general. Chances are, there will be even more reported cases over the next year, so take ticks seriously, and protect yourself from illness by following these simple, but important steps:

Dress Appropriately

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Wearing tall, thick socks while hiking is imperative. No matter what season you’re hiking in, thick, tall socks serve as a protective layer that keep your feet safe, your shoes comfortable and the bugs away from your skin. During tick season, it’s best to hike with tall socks that go over your pant leg. Yes, seriously, tuck your pants into your socks no matter how dorky it looks. Even if it feels too hot to wear long pants, you should. If you absolutely must wear shorts, make sure your socks are pulled up as high as they go and check yourself periodically over the course of your hike.

Avoid Danger Days

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During the spring and early summer, ticks are out and about and at their most dangerous growth stage. They’re tiny, they’re hard to see, and if they’re carrying a disease, it’s already potent. That said, any warm day, even in late winter might bring the ticks out. If it’s uncharacteristically warm for the season, that’s an extra dangerous day as the ticks will come out and be hungrier than usual. Avoid hiking on warm days that are following colder days for this reason.

Amp Up Your Defense

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Clothing is a great line of defense, but if you’re hiking in high tick season, or in a densely wooded area, you should take an extra precaution and spray your shoes and pants with a tick repellent. There are plenty of effective tick repellents on the market, both natural and hardcore.

Stop To Check

Warren Little/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

Periodically throughout your hike, check yourself for ticks over your clothes. Don’t peal your clothes off mid-hike to check, because that just exposes you to the risk. Instead, simply brush off your socks, shake out your shoes, and check your pant legs for any crawlers. The faster you remove the tick, the lesser the threat it is, so don’t wait until you get home and undress to start looking.

Avoid Hot Spots

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Ticks love to hang out in the tall grass and brush. If there’s a path, always stay on it. The second you walk off the path, you increase your risk of running into a tick. Avoid playing with leaf piles, too. In theory a leaf throwing fight is fun, but in reality, the leaf pile is filled with ticks and other creepy crawlers.

Remove It Properly

Stephen Chernin/Getty Images News/Getty Images

If you find a tick on your body, post-hike, make sure you remove it properly. With the most fine-tipped tweezers you can find, grab a hold of the tick as close to your skin as possible. Don’t grab at a limb because it will just break off, leaving the rest of the tick attached to you and now even harder to remove. Once you have the bulk of the tick in your tweezers, pull upward with a swift, steady motion. Once you remove the tick, clean the bite area with alcohol and/or soap. If you want be extra safe, keep the tick in a sealed bag or jar as a reference incase you become symptomatic in weeks to come, you’ll be able to confirm if your sickness is related to the tick.

Disgusting. Creepy. Disease-ridden. Nuisance. There is no end to the derogatory feelings we have about ticks. However, with a bit of awareness, preparation and vigilance, hiking in Washington’s tick country can be incredibly rewarding and enjoyable.

Take preventative measures against ticks and you won’t have to be unpleasantly surprised by these little pests at the end of your hike.

Tick prevention starts by covering up

Minimizing your exposure to ticks begins with your clothing.Ticks tend to latch on in grassy areas above the cuff of your pant-leg and move upward, looking for dark places to burrow. Here are a few tips for hikers:

  • Wear pants and long sleeves — no shorts! The best choice is convertible pants with a flap over the zippered legs — this is an excellent tick trap.
  • Tuck your shirt into your pants. Tuck your pants into your socks.
  • Wear light colors, so you can identify the ticks more easily as they climb.
  • Don a cap with a flap behind the neck, if you have one.

There is a lot of discussion about tick repellents. Hikers report that DEET works great for mosquitoes, but not so well for ticks. Permethrin is a better choice for ticks; several brands of clothing are made with Permethrin-infused fabric, or you can buy a spray. Do note that these are pesticides and thoughtfully consider if and how you want to use them.

During and after your hike

Stick to the trail. Ticks like to hang out in shaded, grassy areas. Sticking to an established trail is good prevention, but certainly is not fool-proof. This is one more great reason to keep dogs, who are tick-magnets, on leash.

Tick check frequently. Hikers in tick country will want to do regular tick checks during the day. Brush those bad boys off or crush them with a fingernail, but don’t worry that they are going to burrow in immediately. Ticks like to cruise around for a while before they take a bite.

Post-hike tick check. After your hike you’ll want to do a thorough check. One hiker we know changes into a complete set of new clothes back at the trailhead. She puts all of her hiking clothes in a garbage bag and seals it, then does a full body check. Favorite tick burrowing sites include the scalp, waist and other dark places where they can hide.

Back home, take a shower. Consider filling up a bathtub or washbasin and tossing in your hiking clothes. Ticks will float up to the surface. Crush them or flush them down the toilet — note that they can survive a wash and rinse cycle.

Check your backpack. Don’t forget to give your backpack a full check too. Leave it outside rather bringing it in your home.

Tick First-Aid: Five steps to remove a tick

If a tick has found a place to burrow in on your body, don’t panic. While it’s possible that the tick has Lyme Disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, the Pacific Northwest is a “low risk” area for Lyme disease and spotted fever is extremely rare. But don’t let that lull you into a sense of security — you do want to get the tick out completely as soon as possible.

Follow these five steps for the best way to remove a tick:

  1. Use an antiseptic or alcohol wipe to clean the area around the tick.
  2. Grasp the tick with tweezers (or fingers) as close to the skin as possible.
  3. Pull straight and steady. Do not twist or yank. You do not want to leave the tick’s head and legs under the skin.
  4. If parts do remain under the skin, pinch the skin up and try to scrape the remains away. Use a sterilized needle if you have to dig anything out.
  5. After you finish, use another antiseptic or alcohol wipe to clean the area.

If you are concerned about disease, save the tick for testing and note the date you found the tick in case you get sick. Watch for symptoms of rash or fever, and if you have concerns, visit your doctor.

The Spokane Regional Health District has an excellent one-pager that covers most of the content in this blog.

You can also send your ticks to the Washington Department of Health for study.

The tall grasses of Umtanum Canyon are known to harbor many ticks. Photo by RichP.

Hikes with known tick issues

Some hikes require extra tick-prevention measures. Don’t let ticks scare you off from the wildflowers or other great springtime wonders, but do be careful and read recent Trip Reports to see if ticks have been spotted in the area.

  • Columbia River Gorge: Lyle Cherry Orchard, Columbia Hills State Park
  • Central Washington: Umtanum Canyon and Ridge, Yakima Skyline
  • Eastern Washington: Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge (in spring)

Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 4:50 p.m. ET:

It’s summertime, which means outdoor play, hiking, gardening — and tick bites. The creepy crawlies tend to latch on during the summer months and these arachnids are ubiquitous throughout the U.S.

But tick bites are more than just an annoying spring and summer nuisance. Each year, about 300,000 people in the U.S. catch Lyme disease, which is caused by bacteria, from a tick bite, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates. Thousands more develop tick-borne diseases such as the malarialike disease babesiosis, the flulike anaplasmosis and the Heartland virus infection.

But people can take steps to avoid the nasty critters, beyond the old-standby advice to cover up and avoid tall grass, experts say. From wood chips to a quick ride in the dryer, here are 10 ways to avoid tick bites.

1. Repel the bugs

Insecticides can be used to repel ticks, said Thomas Mather, a public health entomologist at the University of Rhode Island, and the director of tickencounter.org.

Permethrin, the insecticide found in antimalarial bed nets, kills adult ticks as well as those in their larval stage, called nymphs, which are the likeliest to harbor Lyme disease.

Ideally, people should buy permethrin-treated clothing, socks and shoes, Mather said.

“It’s not toxic to the ticks,” Mather told Live Science. “They still can scurry across a DEET-treated surface, and get to places where the DEET is not,” such as a warm human leg, he said.

2. Be vigilant at home

Hiking and camping aren’t the most common ways to catch a tick-borne disease, said Kirby Stafford III, the state entomologist at The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station and the author of the “Tick Management Handbook.”

“We estimate three-fourths of people pick up the ticks in activities in and around the home,” with children’s play and gardening being some of the riskiest activities, Stafford told Live Science.

Parents should also make sure to do tick checks on children when they come in, he said.

3. Stay in the sun

Tick nymphs have leaky cuticles, or outer covers, that rapidly lose moisture. As a result, they can’t survive in environments with lower than 80 percent humidity for more than eight hours, Mather said.

As a result, nymphs congregate in leaf piles in shady, humid environments, so sticking to sunny areas can reduce tick exposure, he said.

4. Change the landscape

Most ticks around homes stay within a few yards of the interface between the yard and a wooded area, Stafford said.

To keep the yard tick-free, use landscaping that deters mice, deer, woodchucks and other rodents that carry ticks, he said. People should also remove tick habitat such as leaf piles, shrubs and groundcover near the house. Play sets should be kept in the sun, away from the shade, he added.

Ticks won’t cross a barrier of wood chips placed around the yard’s perimeter, perhaps because the dry material makes them dry out too much, he said.

5. Check the dog

Though American dog ticks don’t usually harbor diseases that sicken people, the lone star tick can often hitchhike on a pet into the home, so pet owners should check pets for the bugs as soon as they come indoors.

“Give them a good rub down and give them a good spray with the hose. They hate it but you can make it fun,” Donohoe said.

6. Cover up

Covering up can prevent ticks from latching on, said Holly Donohoe, a researcher at the University of Florida who studies the health risks of travel and sports.

“Tucking pants into socks is a totally nerdy-looking thing, but in this case it can save you the suffering from a tick-borne disease later on,” Donohoe said.

Of course, that advice may be hard to follow during peak tick season, Stafford said.

“In the summer months nobody is going to do that, it’s too hot. I don’t. I’ll be protected from ticks but keel over from heat stroke,” he said. Other prevention measures may be more useful when the mercury rises.

7. Lighten up

The clothes people wear should also be light, said Kathryn Berger, a disease ecologist at the University of Calgary in Canada.

“Nymphal ticks are about the size of a poppy seed, so if you wear lighter-colored clothing like light socks, lighter-colored pants, you’re going to have an easier time identifying them.”

8. Quick dry clothing

Because ticks are so vulnerable to drying out, the hitchhiking parasites can be killed by giving clothing a quick whirl in the dryer on high heat for five minutes, Mather said.

Ticks can survive the wash, and people who have to both wash and dry their clothes may just toss their clothing into a pile for later. It’s better to do a quick dry cycle immediately than to let the tick linger, he said.

9. Shower and inspect

After high-risk activities, people should immediately take their clothes off and do a tick inspection and shower. People who are in the habit of showering immediately after outdoor activities are less likely to get Lyme disease, perhaps because they can catch any biting ticks before they’ve transmitted the disease, Stafford said.

After biting, ticks can take several hours to transmit Lyme disease, said Laura Kramer, the director of the Arbovirus Laboratory at the New York State Department of Health’s Wadsworth Center.

10. Remove the tick

If, after taking all these precautions, people do get bitten, they should remove the tick immediately with tweezers or forceps, experts said.

It’s important to visit a doctor if flulike symptoms or a suspicious rash appear, and to bring the tick in for testing by a state health department to see if it harbors any diseases, Kramer told Live Science.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated to correct the spelling of Kathryn Berger’s name.

Follow Tia Ghose on Twitter and Google+. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

Since the same tick may transmit both Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis, Ms. Landrigan said, doxycycline, which is effective against both, has been a treatment of choice in the county. Penicillin does not work effectively against ehrlichiosis, which can be accompanied by a high fever and can be fatal.

Dr. Randi Feldman, a Chappaqua pediatrician, said that in addition to providing children with a good clothing barrier for outdoor play, parents should check their children thoroughly for ticks every day or two, making sure to include the scalp. A light-colored, one-piece suit is a good idea, she said, and would be ”terrific if you’re sending your kids to Boy Scout camp,” for instance. But she questioned its practicality on a hot summer day. ”Overheating is an issue,” she said.

Dr. Mangiameli maintained, however, that the tick suit can be worn during much of the summer, especially if other clothing is not worn underneath it. ”You can wear this until the temperature reaches about 85 degrees,” she said. ”Then it gets hot.” On very warm days, she said, her son leaves his hood off to play.

Dr. Lipari said the couple began manufacturing the tick shield in the fall of 1995, after their neighbors saw the family wearing them and wanted their own. Orders came in from Manhattan and Brooklyn after Dr. Lipari was interviewed on a Manhattan radio station, but he said the couple have been too busy with their dentistry practice — they share an office in Chappaqua — to market the suit. It is sold at Katonah Hardware and the Greeley Country Store in Chappaqua for $39.99 ($34.99 for children). It can also be ordered from the couple’s company, Katonah Outfitters, at (800) 414-8425. The shipping and handling fee is $5.95.

One recent afternoon here, young Richard modeled the suit while Dr. Mangiameli held Alexa, who at 9 months will have to wait a while before she is big enough to wear the smallest children’s size. Since recovering from ehrlichiosis, Dr. Mangiameli has been tested regularly for Lyme disease. So far, she said, the results have been negative.

Preventing Tick Bites

In Partnership with Sawyer

By Laura Hughes

No matter what we’re doing in the outdoors, showing up prepared makes us feel more confident, less afraid of the unknowns, and—perhaps obvious but it’s worth stating—better able to take care of ourselves and others.

One aspect of prevention is dealing with bugs, especially ticks. Ticks aren’t something we love spending a good deal of time thinking about, but a lack of preparation when it comes to them can lead to anxiety when going outdoors. Plus, if you’re not prepared, it can also lead to being exposed to serious diseases, like Lyme, should you encounter a tick bite.

There are a few basic practices and pieces of gear to know about when it comes to preventing tick bites, so we did some research and compiled it all here to get you started. Because your adventures might take you to unpredictable places, but preventing tick bites (or knowing how to respond accordingly) is something you can have some control over.

Photo by Gale Straub.

Do all ticks carry Lyme?

First and foremost, not all ticks carry Lyme disease. The Blacklegged Tick, also known as the Deer Tick, is known to carry Lyme-causing bacteria. That said, it’s important to know that not all Blacklegged Ticks carry Lyme, so just because you are bitten by a tick, or bitten by a Blacklegged Tick, does not automatically mean you were exposed to Lyme Disease.

However, because preventing tick bites is the best way to avoid contracting Lyme or other tick-born diseases, below are some basics for how to be prepared this season.

Preventing Tick Bites: Basic Tips

Wear repellent: If you’re going outdoors, you will want to consider wearing a spray repellent that addresses ticks and other insects. While DEET has been a popular go-to active ingredient for decades, it can be rough on your skin, clothes, and gear. Fortunately, there are alternatives that work just as well if not better, like picaridin (pick-air-eh-den), an ingredient derived from peppers. Our team has tested Sawyer’s Picaridin Insect Repellent in a variety of climates and feel safe wearing it while on the trails.

Applying Sawyer’s Picaridin Lotion. Photo by Gale Straub.

Sawyer’s Picaridin Spray. Photo by Gale Straub.

Treat your gear: In addition to treating your skin, you can treat your gear and clothing to make it less hospitable to ticks. The active ingredient in this type of spray is permethrin (per-meth-ren) and once applied, it can be effective for 6 weeks or 6 washings. Sawyer’s Permethrin Spray is easy to use, odorless, and safe for dogs—which makes it a go-to in our book.

Editor’s note: Although used commonly in tick prevention spot treatment, collars, and sprays, Permethrin can be toxic to animals before it has dried, so be careful using Permethrin around pets—especially cats. Cats are more sensitive to Permethrin than other mammals. Cats should never be exposed to Permethrin Pet Sprays, but gear spray doesn’t pose as large a risk since the solution is more diluted. According to a report by the New York Times, “If you are spraying a 1% concentration on clothing and it dries, it’s unlikely that you’ll see any problems with the cat.” Sawyer’s Permethrin Spray for clothing and gear is only 0.5% Permethrin.

It’s good to feel prepared. Treat your gear and clothes at home with Sawyer’s Premetherin Spray before your next adventure. Photo by Laura Hughes.

Consider your attire: Ticks can show up as translucent in earlier stages of development, but are generally dark brown, red, or black in color. Wearing light-colored clothing could help you to identify them easier. There is also research available showing that ticks seem to be attracted to darker-colored clothing. Whatever colors you choose to wear, it’s good to consider tucking in your clothes when in a tick-prone area (shirt into pants, pants into socks—there’s no shame in preventing tick bites!).

Stay on trail: Not only is staying on established trails good for the environment, but defined trails generally have less overgrowth, meaning that you’ll be exposed to less ticks.

Do a full body tick check: It’s recommended to check for ticks at least once daily—more if you’re going outside multiple times per day. Ticks don’t fly or jump, but they do like the naturally warmer areas of your body like your armpits, belly button, behind your ears, in your hairline, in the crooks of your knees and elbows, and between your legs. They can be as small as a poppyseed, so a buddy and a magnifying glass might both be helpful for your scans!

If you take your pets outdoors with you, make sure to check your pets for ticks, too. People can often get tick bites because they forget to check their furry friends!

Shower sooner: Research has shown that taking a shower within 2 hours of coming home drastically helps reduce your chance of tick bites. Taking this approach will also make sure ticks don’t linger in your home, vehicle, or anywhere else you’ve been eating your post-hike meal.

Heat treat your clothing: Research has also shown that ticks will not survive in the dry air of a clothing dryer, so when you get home from a tick-thick environment, pop your clothing into a dryer for at least 10 minutes (possibly longer if they started out wet).

Tick Bite Prevention Pack List

Just as you would pack a First Aid Kit, water, and your favorite snacks in your day pack, bringing the proper tick bite prevention gear will help you to focus more on enjoying your time outside. After doing some research, here’s what we recommend bringing with you:

  • Bug Spray – with active ingredients like picaridin
  • Permethrin Spray – for your clothes, gear, and dog
  • Fine Point Tweezers or Tick Pliers – in case a removal is needed
  • Magnifying glass – because ticks can be tiny
  • Headlamp – because you might do a tick check at night
  • Antiseptic Wipes – to clean the skin after a potential tick removal

It doesn’t take much extra space in your bag to show up prepared. Photo by Laura Hughes.

Preventing Tick Bites for Travelers

Some ticks thrive in certain environments better than others. Before you travel to a new region, especially one you are less familiar with, consider checking out what ticks might be prevalent there so you know what to look for.

A simple online search can generally be helpful. For instance, we found this handy map from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) showing the geographic distribution of ticks in the United States.

Preventing Tick Bites for Backyard Adventures

It can be easy to overlook ticks in (literally) your own backyard. If you live in a tick-prone region or have a decent amount of vegetation in and around your property, you might want to consider creating a tick-safe zone, which is a strategic natural barrier that you can create in your yard.

How to Respond to a Tick Bite

Part of showing up prepared is knowing how to manage a tick bite. If you or someone you’re with does get bit by a tick, here are a few tips we found to safely address the situation:

  • Remain calm.
  • Using fine point tweezers or a tick pliers, pinch the tick as close to the skin as possible.
  • Apply even pressure, pulling straight up and minimizing twisting.
  • Treat the affected area and your hands with an antiseptic wipe until you can wash thoroughly.

Remember that a tick bite does not equate to contracting a tick-born disease. In fact, the sooner you find and extract the tick, the better chance you have of preventing diseases like Lyme. That said, following a tick bite, you should remain cognizant of possible symptoms and call a doctor if you have unusual symptoms—especially rash, a bull’s eye marking around the bite area, or fever.

Lyme Resources

For those wanting to learn more about the research, support, and communities for those with Lyme Disease, consider starting with (and supporting) the following:

More Than Lyme

Global Lyme Alliance

International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society

American Lyme Disease Foundation

Editor’s note: This piece is sponsored by Sawyer and our opinions are all our own. The photos above feature Sawyer’s Picaridin Insect Repellent, Permethrin Spray, and Tick Pliers. Check out their full product collection here.

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