Bite Back! 4 Ways to Prevent Tick Bites This Summer
It’s that time of year again for getting outside to garden, do yard work or take a hike–but we’re not alone out there! The tick population is already out in full swing, which means we need to be prepared and take action to prevent getting bitten.
Ticks have a pretty negative reputation, and for good reason. They’re known carriers of Lyme Disease, which may cause symptoms that affect the skin, nervous system, joints and and/or heart, and can have serious and lasting effects on overall health. While Lyme Disease tends to be the most well-known tick-borne illness, ticks can also carry ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia, which similarly can result in lasting negative health effects.
The best way to prevent these diseases is to avoid getting bitten by a tick in the first place. Being well-informed about ticks, their behavior and what to look out for can go a long way in preventing tick bites, as can taking the proper precautions when spending time outside.
What Do I Need to Know About Ticks?
Ticks are small–ranging from the size of a pinhead to a pencil eraser–making them difficult to spot on the body. They like to burrow in hard-to-see places like the scalp, groin or behind ears, and can crawl on a human body virtually undetected due to their small size.
Deer Ticks, which carry Lyme Disease, Lone Star Ticks and American Dog Ticks are the most common In New England and New York. The Deer Tick specifically is becoming a larger problem with growing deer populations and milder winters failing to kill these ticks off through the winter season.
These ticks live in wooded areas, along property lines, in the brush on roadsides or in tall grasses, leaf litter and shrubs, and will lay in wait until a host comes along they can attach to. Ticks feed on animals like rodents, rabbits, deer and birds–and our own pets. If you have a dog or outdoor cat, it’s important to check them for ticks to ensure they don’t get infected or bring these insects into the home.
How Can I Prevent a Tick Bite?
Because of their size and behavior, there are a few key ways to prevent tick bites. The most important precautions begin the moment you step foot outside, but don’t end once you come in for the day.
1. Dress Smart
Ticks want to bite skin, but if they can’t find it, they’ll simply drop off and wait for another host. There are a few ways to prevent tick bites by dressing smart:
- Because ticks typically latch onto us at our feet or ankles, tucking in your pant legs is an effective way to prevent a tick bite. Often, ticks are able to make quick contact with skin on the ankle or leg, making their job very easy.
- If you’re wearing sandals, shorts or pants that leave the skin around your ankles exposed, be sure to check thoroughly for ticks upon returning inside.
- Consider wearing light-colored clothing so you can more easily spot a tick. Ticks are small and black or red in color, so you have a better chance of seeing one on your body against a lighter backdrop.
- Keep long hair tied back when gardening or doing any outdoor activities where your hair may come in contact with the ground.
2. Use Repellent
Tick repellent is available at most grocery stores or pharmacies; if you’re headed outdoors, spray yourself and your children, especially on the feet and ankles.
Using tick repellent is important if your skin is not fully covered by clothing, or if you are going into an area where there is more wildlife, such as for hunting or hiking, and therefore may be exposed to a higher tick population.
3. Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Because ticks can only crawl and don’t climb into trees or large bushes, they don’t travel very far in their lifetimes; often only several feet. That’s why it’s best to stay on well-trafficked trails when hiking, within the border of your yard, and away from leaf litter or roadside brush when walking along roadways.
If you do venture into tall grasses or wooded areas, immediately check your feet, ankles and legs, as the best time to spot a tick is right after it attaches to your body.
4. Check Your Body Thoroughly
Because ticks are so small, the most important way to prevent a tick bite is to check yourself thoroughly following outdoor activities. Some “hot spots” to check include:
- Behind the ears
- Groin area
- Between toes
Checking for ticks is an important step in preventing a tick bite, and is best to do as soon as possible after your outdoor activity.
What if a Tick Still Bites Me?
Even with these precautions, it’s possible to still get bitten by a tick. The most important action to take is to thoroughly and regularly check your body for signs of a tick. If you have been bitten, you may notice a “bullseye” or solid red patch around the site of the bite. You may also notice a red rash on the skin in areas other than the tick bite.
However, there is not always a visible sign of a tick bite. Often, people experience symptoms such as fever, chills, muscle stiffness or soreness, fatigue or lethargy, or even tingling or numbness in the arms and legs. These symptoms typically occur within 30 days following a tick bite. If you know you could have been exposed to ticks, be aware of these symptoms in the days following that exposure.
If you see signs of a tick bite, or experience any of these symptoms, visit a doctor right away.
Ticks don’t discriminate–they will latch on to anyone at any age, so it’s important not only to watch your children outside, but also watch yourself!
We all want to enjoy the nice weather and the outdoor activities we love. If you’re properly prepared, ticks don’t have to be part of that equation.