If you’re headed outside to soak up the sun and enjoy the outdoors, be aware that ticks and tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease are waiting for you, particularly during warm weather, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So it’s a good idea to protect yourself.
Ticks can be hard to spot because they’re small and favor making their homes in grassy or wooded areas, but they can also be lurking in the grass in your yard, so you have to be on guard.
The two most frequently encountered ticks in Missouri and Illinois are the lone star tick and the American dog tick. They’re also known to spread potentially dangerous diseases, like Lyme disease, via their bites.
That they can be so small and so hard to spot is part of the danger. It takes about 36 hours for a tick to infect a human. If a tick falls into your hair or makes its way to a spot that’s hard for you to see even on your own body, like your armpit or groin, it can attach itself and be there long enough to infect you.
While there are several diseases that ticks can spread, here are particular tick-borne diseases to be aware of and their symptoms.
- Lyme Disease: low-grade fever, achy joints, headache and bullseye rash.
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever: fever, headaches and spotty rashes, particularly around your wrist and ankles.
- Anaplasmosis or Ehrlichiosis: fever, chills, headache and nausea.
STEPS TO TAKE
There are several ways to protect yourself against ticks, tick bites and Lyme disease, with the biggest advantage being preventing tick bites in the first place.
Sure, wearing long pants and long-sleeve shirts may not feel the most comfortable for a warm-weather hike, but it’s also the best way to keep ticks from getting on you at all. Try to wear light colors since ticks can be small and are more easily spotted against brighter colors. Tuck your pant legs into your socks or shoes to cut down on the chances of a tick being picked up from grass or lower bushes and crawling up your legs.
You also can use bug sprays to prevent ticks. The first is permethrin, a spray that should only be applied to clothing and not to your skin. If it comes into contact with skin, permethrin can cause irritation and itching, so be very careful when applying.
The second bug spray to use is the more common, DEET-based repellants you see at pharmacies and are safe to apply to your skin. While it’s most commonly used for mosquitoes, several popular brands also make tick sprays.
CAREFULLY REMOVE TICKS
As careful as you might be in preventing ticks, sometimes they still sneak through your defenses and attach themselves to your skin. That’s why a full-body search, even with the help of a partner, is so important after outdoor excursions where you’re more at risk for ticks.
First, gently clean the area around the tick with rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab. Then, using fine-nosed tweezers, get as close as possible to the point at which the tick’s head is attached to your skin and gently – but firmly – remove the tick.
Just don’t squeeze the body of the tick. If you squeeze the body of the tick, that can cause the tick to regurgitate bacteria into your body via the bite.
Avoid the old-school approach of trying to burn a tick off with a match or lit cigarette.
And, of course, you can always consult your healthcare provider, especially if you’re not sure when you might have picked up the tick. If you’ve caught it within a day, chances are you’re in the clear. But if it’s been longer, your doctor might recommend some antibiotics to prevent infection.