These bugs have me ticked off: Tips for staying tick free this summer

Tick

 Image credit: Tick by mikael altemark, on Flickr. CC BY 2.0.

When you start a new relationship, sometimes you take on a hobby or two from your beloved. When I first started dating my honey, we learned we both shared a love of walking in The Great Outdoors.

Up to that point in my life, my experience in this area was walking the well-maintained trails of the Cleveland Metroparks and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (which, if you have the chance to visit, make sure to check them out–they are a real gems in Cleveland’s crown). My beloved’s experience, was different; he grew up walking the woods that surrounded his family’s farm.

Though I was used to the “cushy” trails the parks system offered, I was game to try his version of A Walk in the Woods. How bad could it be? There would be tall grass, leaves and fallen timbers in our path that would need to be negotiated, but that didn’t seem like a big deal. For the most part, that is how our first walk was. It was pleasant, though when we stopped I noticed some bugs crawling on my dog’s head. I picked them off and dismissed them as some sort of spider. But, in the back of my mind, I wondered: “Were those ticks?”

I had never seen a tick before–but I had heard the campfire horror stories of people using a freshly extinguished match to get the tick to unhinge its jaws from its victim’s flesh–so I planned to do some internet research when we got home to see what one looked like.

It turned out, I didn’t need to wait until we got home to find out. On the way back, my sweetheart needed to stop by the grocery store. Since we had my dog with me, I waited in the car. While I was sitting there, I had the sensation that something was crawling in my hair. I ran my fingers through my hair until I found the cause. It was the same kind of critter I had seen earlier! I kept it pinched tight in my fingers so Mr. Wonderful could get a look at it. By the time he returned, I was pretty freaked out (I’m itching as I’m writing this). He wasn’t sure but he thought it was, indeed, a tick.

Gross.

Since then, we’ve had several more encounters with ticks (to date, I’ve pulled out three that had started to use my scalp as an all-you-can-eat buffet) and have taken on a new hobby: learning how to keep those little jerks away from us.

Why ticks are awful

  • They’re everywhere. Check out this resource the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) put together. There is not one region of the United States mainland that is exempt from some species.
  • They spread disease. As if having the critters steal your blood wasn’t bad enough, each species comes with its own treasure trove of diseases (many of which I cannot spell or pronounce) that can be transmitted to humans and pets. According to the CDC, 300,000 Americans contract Lyme disease (which is transmitted by the blacklegged–or deer–tick) annually.
  • They’re just plain creepy.

What can you do to avoid them

  • Humans are most likely to encounter ticks in late spring and summer while walking in areas with brush and tall grasses, so wearing pants and long sleeves while you’re out on your great nature adventures is essential. Since my encounters have resulted in ticks noshing on my head, I recommend wearing a hat, too.
  • The CDC recommends you use an insect repellent that contains DEET. Don’t just spray your body, spray it on your clothes and shoes, too.  Yes, you will find lots of formulas that contain “natural” ingredients but they are not proven to be effective and not regulated for safety.
  • When you come inside, throw all the clothes you wore on your trek  in the dryer and crank the heat up to high (let it run for about an hour). Next, check all your nooks and crannies for the little buggers then take a relaxing shower. If you took your canine companions with you, check them thoroughly, too (and don’t forget to apply a preventative flea and tick treatment on the regular).
  • Live in a concrete box and never leave it.

Crap! I’ve got a tick in my skin. How do I get it out?

  • First, don’t freak out like I do. Remember if you remove a tick within twenty-four hours, your chance of  having the tick transmit disease to you is low.
  • Get some rubbing alcohol, tweezers and a container to put the offender in after it’s extracted (some recommend keeping it in case you develop disease symptoms after the bite to help identify the source and type of illness; personally, I like to save them until I figure out what sort of tick torture I’m going to inflict).
  • Take the tweezers and grab the tick as close to its tiny jaws as possible and slowly pull the tick straight out (if you are having trouble visualizing this process, this nifty infographic from The Art of Manliness will help). Once it’s removed, clean the area (and your tweezers) with rubbing alcohol and wash the area and your hands.

Ultimately, using your noggin and taking some precautions when you go exploring will keep you happy, healthy and tick free this summer. So go out and enjoy nature!

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