I love spending time outside and interacting with the environment around me. However, nothing bothers me more than ticks, and ever since I can remember, I’ve hated these little buggers. While you can’t totally avoid interacting with ticks, you can do certain things to prevent being bitten.
Ticks can ruin your entire outdoors adventure
Most of us are aware that ticks have been around since ever, and they’ve been thriving long before these insects become a concern for humans. Why do people worry about ticks? The answer is simple; they carry diseases that not only can make you very sick but, in certain cases, even kill you.
Some of the diseases they carry are Lyme disease (probably the most commonly known), anaplasmosis, Powassan encephalitis, tick paralysis, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, and tularemia.
While some of these diseases are regional, others are common everywhere. Here’s what you should know about these diseases.
This is the most common disease of all tick-borne diseases, and many people have heard about it, although few know how deadly it is if left untreated. The adult black-legged tick (also known as the deer tick) is responsible for spreading Lyme disease. The symptoms appear 3 to 30 days after being bitten.
These symptoms begin with the circular red rash around the site of the bite. Following the rash, fatigue, headaches, fever, and muscle pain will be experienced by the infected person. The disease is treated with antibiotics, and early treatment leads to a rapid and full recovery. However, if the disease is left untreated, it becomes fatal.
In 2019, the states with a high incidence of Lyme disease cases were Minnesota, Wisconsin, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.
The lone star tick is responsible for transmitting this disease, and the common symptoms of the disease are fever, fatigue, headache, and muscle aches. The symptoms usually appear 5 to 10 days after being bitten by an infected insect.
The disease is common in the south-eastern and south-central regions of the United States. It’s estimated that Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma account for more than 30 percent of all reported cases. Ehrlichiosis is treated with doxycycline antibiotics.
It’s also worth mentioning that an infected tick can also transmit the disease to dogs and horses.
This is one of the “newly” discovered tick-borne diseases, and the deer tick is believed to be responsible for transmitting the disease. The symptoms of this disease vary from one patient to another, and they appear 1 to 2 weeks after being bitten by an infected tick.
Symptoms include fever, chills, headache, malaise, muscle pain, cough, confusion, abdominal pain, and sometimes a rash appears. Doxycycline is the treatment of choice for this disease, and it helps prevent severe complications from developing if started early.
Cases have been on the rise in the last decade, and the states with the most occurrences are Wisconsin, Minnesota, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
This disease is quite rare, but it’s worth mentioning become sometimes is fatal. It’s transmitted by the deer tick, and compared to most of the diseases spread by ticks which are bacterial in nature, Powassan encephalitis is viral. While other tick-borne diseases can be treated with antibiotics, in this case, you need to treat the symptoms of the virus.
It takes between 1 to 4 weeks for the illness to manifest, and various treatments will be prescribed. Even so, approximately 10 percent of all cases are fatal since many of the infected people do not develop any symptoms.
The disease was first identified in Powassan, Ontario, hence the name, and the highest recurrence of cases was reported in Minnesota, New York, and Wisconsin.
The American dog tick carries this disease, and it affects both humans and dogs. The toxin released by the bite of the tick causes mobility problems in the limbs. The person bitten will not be able to properly move and control their arms and legs.
When the tick is located and removed, these symptoms will disappear in a couple of hours. This disease is widespread in the United States, but it’s most commonly reported in the Southeast and the Northwest.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever
This disease is carried by the American dog tick and is very common in the western part of the United States. However, cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever are often reported in the south-eastern and central states as well.
The symptoms usually appear 2 to 10 days after being bitten. They include fever, nausea and vomiting, headaches, backaches, stomach pain, lack of appetite, muscle pain, and a rash. Immediate treatment with antibiotics is required because it was estimated that up to 20 percent of untreated cases result in death.
This is a disease that attacks the red blood cells of humans, and it’s quite similar to malaria. It’s carried by the black-legged tick, and symptoms vary from person to person. Some may get a fever, chills, nausea, sweats, fatigue, loss of appetite, and head and body aches. While most people will get only light symptoms, those with a compromised immune system will suffer the most, and their symptoms are more severe and long-lasting.
The symptoms can occur weeks to months after being bitten, and they can be fatal for those with suppressed immune systems. Most cases are reported during the summer months in the Northeast and upper Midwest.
Most hunters are aware of this disease since it’s common in rabbits and squirrels. They often get infected by improperly handling and skinning their catch or after being bitten by the American dog and the Lone Star ticks.
Also, in the case of tularemia, the symptoms will vary depending on how the bacteria have entered the body. Most commonly, ulcers around the bite site are present, and fever and swelling of the lymph nodes occur.
The disease is cured with antibiotics, and it’s most commonly encountered in the center of United States and in Canada.
Are all ticks dangerous?
Thick should be considered dangerous until proven otherwise. In fact, these insects are not born with the diseases listed above, and they are only carriers. They bite an infected animal (like mice, squirrels, and others) which are the hosts of such diseases, and they become vectors for the disease spreading it to humans and other animals.
Once the tick gets infected after it bites a host, it will move to another food source (human or animal), and it will transmit the disease after blood-to-blood contact is made (through a bite).
So, under normal circumstances, it seems that ticks are not dangerous, and yet, year after year, there’s an increase in tick-borne disease. So, who’s to blame here?
Ironically, we are to blame because ticks have always been here, and there weren’t so many cases registered in the past. However, thanks to other actions and inactions, the populations of rodents have increased, and so did the number of ticks. The more rodents and ticks, the greater the chances of such disease being spread.
In the past, predators would keep the number of rodents in check, thus limiting the severity of the number of diseases these hosts transmit. With the continuous development and our impact on the natural environment, we have removed or limited the action of predators in our vicinity. With no natural control, the number of rodents increases, and with them, more ticks appear. It’s a vicious cycle in which we play a big role.
Defending yourself from ticks
Common sense and a good offense go a long way when it comes to interacting with ticks and keeping yourself safe. Here are some things I often do when exploring the great outdoors, and I suggest you do the same.
Avoid tick habitats
In general, ticks thrive in areas with tall grass and bush because that’s where their hosts reside. If possible, stay away from such areas and don’t let your dog run wild in the tall grass just because it looks fun. This will not always be possible when you’re exploring the great outdoors, and while it will reduce the risk of being bitten, it will not eliminate it. Even so, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
When I go through the bush, I always wear appropriate clothing and footwear. Get shoes that provide total coverage for your feat and ditch the sandals or open shoes. You will often be tempted to go barefoot (as I often do), but refrain from doing so if you spend time in prime tick habitat.
Wear long pants and tuck the cuffs into your socks to keep the ticks on your clothes and off your skin. Always wear long-sleeved shirts and make sure they’re tucked in at the waist. If you dress for success, it will be much easier to remove the ticks from your clothes than it is from the skin after they have bitten you.
Threat your clothing with repellents and use those with permethrin which are made specifically for use on clothing. Permethrin not only removes the ticks but also kills them. However, this repellent shouldn’t be used directly on the skin, and once you’ve sprayed the surface of choice (clothing, car seats, dog bed, etc.), allow it to dry for at least an hour before using those surfaces or getting in contact with them.
Another product that I’m using constantly is Picaridin. It doesn’t contain DEET, and it’s very effective on your gear and clothing. I’ve learned about it from a close friend, an avid hunter, after constantly praising the product every time we planned an outdoor outing. I guarantee it will not harm your gear, and so far, it’s my favorite when it comes to repelling ticks. Picardan is also effective at keeping mosquitos at bay, so I recommend getting the Picaridin combo package.
Removing a tick
Even with all the precautions you take, the chances are that one day a tick will get the best of you. I check myself and my dogs every time after an outside adventure. It takes a couple of minutes, and it provides me peace of mind.
The good news about ticks is that they do not bite right away after landing on the skin. It was estimated that it might take up to 24 hours until a tick decides to bite. Chances are you may find a few crawling on you or on your pets long before they make up their mind to bite or not.
If you have been bitten, you will need to remove the tick as soon as possible. You can use a tick removal tool if you have one available or a pair of tweezers. Grab the tick by its head and gently pull, trying not to break the head off in your skin. If you manage to do so, the next step is to treat the area with an antibacterial ointment. If the head remains in your skin, seek medical assistance. Also, even if you have removed the tick properly, you should seek medical help if symptoms of the tick-borne disease begin to manifest.
Take care of your yard as well
Your yard may not be a safe haven if you live in areas where ticks are present. If you live in a dry/arid environment, you’re in luck since ticks have a hard time surviving in such environments. In fact, it was observed that tick numbers rapidly drop in dry environments.
Even so, here’s what you need to do to reduce the tick population:
Mow your lawn – Short lawns dry quicker, so you need to mow your lawn constantly. Also, if the grass becomes taller and you neglect your lawn, you will increase your chances of encountering ticks.
Create a barrier between your habitation area and tick habitat – Ticks love the brush, and mowing a strip between the area you’re active in and the tick bush will keep them at bay. I recommend removing all tick brush near your property.
Stay out of the bush – If you don’t want to remove the dense vegetation near the border of your property, at least stay out of it as much as possible. If you do go into those areas, use a repellent and wear appropriate clothing.
Use repellents in your yard – A while back, I’ve discovered an alternative to tick spray and tick repellents to keep my backyard tick-free. There’s a product called Tick Control Tubes made by Thermacell, and they can help you maximize your backyard tick protection with these control tubes.
The tubes contain cotton treated with a permethrin insecticide, and the mice will often collect this cotton to line their nests. Since ticks feeding on the mice are present both on the mice and in their nest, once the insects get in contact with the cotton, they die. These are easy to use and apply, so give them a try if you want.
The more you know about ticks, the greater your chances of avoiding interacting with these insects and the better prepared you will be.
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