Hiking, camping, fishing….Spending time in the great outdoors is one of summer’s greatest pleasures. But it can also come with risks. Keep in mind that if you are walking through a meadow or wandering in a wooded area, you may very well encounter some ticks, putting you at risk for exposure to the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, or Borrelia burgdorferi. More than 300,000 new cases of Lyme disease are diagnosed in the US each year with some patients going on to suffer debilitating, long-term health effects.
In its initial stages, Lyme disease may cause a rash, often in a bulls-eye pattern. Other symptoms depend on how long the disease has been present in the body. Infected individuals may experience anything from flu-like symptoms including fever, aches and pains to more serious neurological issues and heart problems.
Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose, as its symptoms are not consistent, and may mimic other illnesses. In the early stages, it is typically treated successfully with antibiotics.
The best defense against Lyme disease is being prepared and aware before and after you go out in nature. It’s generally safe to assume that any tall grass, low-to-the-ground shrubs or wooded plants have ticks in them. Think about where you are going and plan accordingly.
- First, dress appropriately when out in areas where ticks may roam. This includes wearing light-colored clothing, long-sleeved shirts, socks and closed-toe shoes or boots, and long pants tucked into socks. Consider treating your clothing with permethrin, an insecticide that repels ticks, three to four hours before you go outside.
2. When you return from your hike or camping trip, check your clothes and gear for ticks. Wash your clothes in hot water and tumble dry. This should kill any ticks that are hiding.
3. Inspect your body. Check behind the knees, between fingers and toes, underarms, in your belly button, your neck, hairline, top of the head, behind the ears and anywhere clothing presses tightly against your skin.
4. Take a shower to wash off any ticks in hiding. Remember, they can be as small as a poppy seed.
5. If you discover a tick, don’t panic. It is unlikely that you would catch lime disease within the first 24 hours. Therefore, the earlier you find it and remove it, the better.
6. Remove the tick with tweezers and care. Grab the tick’s mouth or head as close to your skin as possible with the tweezers. Pull up slowly and steadily without twisting until the tick lets go. Don’t use petroleum jelly, solvents, knives, or a lit match. Do NOT crush or squeeze the tick as this could expose you to any pathogens it is carrying.
7. Consider testing the tick for the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. You can do this at home using the Cutter Lyme Disease Tick Test (available for $29.00 at tss-safety.com). You can also save the tick in a sealed container and have it tested. Then dispose of it by flushing it down the toilet.
8. Disinfect the bite area and the tweezers.
Lyme disease symptoms can develop 3 to 30 days after a tick bite, so pay attention to the bite site for the next month. If any symptoms develop, contact your doctor immediately.
In addition to Lyme disease, ticks can carry a variety of diseases, some of them dangerous. But with a little advanced planning and preparation as well as a careful tick check when you get home, you can enjoy your time in nature without worry. So, get out there and go camping!