It can be wonderful to spend time in the great outdoors, communing with nature. However, being in nature can sometimes be dangerous if you’re heading straight into tick habitats. Because ticks can be carriers for Lyme disease, it’s important that you know how to protect yourself from them all year round. Here’s a breakdown of everything you need to know about how to keep yourself safe from tick bites.
What are ticks?
Ticks are bugs that are related to spiders and mites. They have eight legs and flat, oval bodies that swell after a feeding. They feed on the blood of animals (including birds, deer, mice and, unfortunately, humans). Ticks are very small and can be as tiny as a poppyseed, making them super hard for the human eye to spot. There are a variety of different species that exist, depending on their location in the world, but all of them have the potential to be carriers for Lyme disease.
Where are ticks most commonly found?
Ticks have been spotted in pretty much every country around the globe. In fact, because of global warming, researchers are learning that the tick population is growing and consequently spreading to even more corners of the world. Ticks thrive in warmer temperatures; they’re the most inactive when the temperature stays low. If the ground isn’t completely covered in snow and if soil temperatures reach above 7°C, ticks can become quite active (which explains why global warming means more ticks are present).
Tick season in the past has been between April and September, but people shouldn’t let their guard down during other parts of the year in case there are still ticks present. An extended tick season with warm temperatures means there are now even more opportunities for tick bites and for Lyme-related disorders to be on the rise.
Where do ticks live?
Ticks like to make habitats in vegetation, such as in tall grass or bushy areas. They can also typically be found in leaf litter, woodpiles and cut grass. Ticks also prefer hanging out near stonewalls, areas planted with ground cover, and lawn perimeters (especially near forested areas). Ticks usually climb up tall grass blades or overgrown areas so that they can latch onto passing animals or humans in order to feed. Forests or wooded areas away from marked paths can be some of the most tick-laden places in nature.
Are ticks dangerous?
Because they can be carriers of infections, ticks can be super dangerous. Along with carrying Lyme, they can also transmit co-infections such as Babesiosis, Ehrlichiosis and Anaplasmosis.
In order to avoid contracting any of these illnesses, you’ll want to make sure you’re steering clear of any ticks.
What clothing can protect me from ticks?
If you’re going to be outdoors, you should wear clothing that will protect you from ticks. These items can include long-sleeved shirts and trousers that don’t leave any skin exposed, closed-toe shoes, and hats to protect your scalp. It’s also a good idea to tuck your socks into your trousers so that ticks won’t be able to crawl up your legs. One other tip is to wear light-coloured clothing if possible so you can easily spot any ticks that might have latched onto your clothes. Some people choose to take an extra step to ensure they’re protected and spray their clothes with a tick-repellent like permethrin. This can give you some peace of mind so that you feel extra protected when you head out into nature.
What you should do if you’ve been bitten by a tick?
Any time you come in from spending time outdoors, you should do a thorough check to see if any ticks have attached themselves to your clothing or to your skin. Don’t forget to examine less obvious places on your body like your scalp and behind your knees. If you spot a tick, gently remove it immediately from your skin with tweezers or a tick-removal kit. Clean the area with alcohol, too. There are some early warning signs of infection you can look out for if you suspect you have been bitten by a tick. Symptoms of Lyme disease infection can include:
- Red, bullseye rash (around the site of the tick bite)
- Flu-like symptoms (such as headaches, fever, malaise)
- Joint or muscle pain
- Extreme fatigue or tiredness
- Changes in mood, sleep, or appetite
- Cognitive difficulties (including problems with memory or concentration)
Not everyone will develop each of these symptoms, but it’s always a good idea to pay attention to your health to see if you’ve observed any of these symptoms. It’s also important to get checked out by a Lyme-literate doctor. Many people get misdiagnosed (mostly because Lyme disease symptoms can look like so many other conditions), so it’s important that you inform your doctor that you’re concerned about Lyme disease, or that you make sure you’re seeing a doctor who truly understands the condition. If you’ve removed a tick yourself, you do have the option of sending it into a lab to see if it’s a Lyme carrier. A typical treatment for Lyme disease is antibiotics, but there are some people that end up with chronic Lyme disease, so it is imperative that you consult with healthcare professionals and follow their recommendations in order to achieve a full recovery.
Even taking small steps like wearing long-sleeved shirts or closed-toe shoes can help make you less of a target to ticks. Always be on the lookout for ticks (even in winter months when they’re less likely to be active) so you can continue to do your best to protect yourself against contracting Lyme disease all year round.