How To Avoid Ticks: Don’t Let Them Ruin Your Hiking Adventure

Spring, Summer, and Fall are the perfect times for hiking and enjoying the great outdoors. However, if you’re not careful, ticks can quickly ruin your outdoor adventure. These pesky critters can transmit serious diseases, such as Lyme disease, so it’s important to take steps to protect yourself from them. In this blog post, we will discuss some practical tips that will help you avoid ticks while hiking.

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Adult deer tick

Should I worry about ticks?

Ticks are carriers of various diseases, which is the primary concern people have with them.

First, ticks are known to transmit lyme disease, which can be a serious and debilitating illness affecting your nervous system.

Second, ticks can latch onto people without us even noticing, causing them to spread harmful bacteria throughout the body.

In addition, once attached, ticks can burrow deep into the skin and remain there for several days before being removed.

Ultimately, taking these precautions will help protect you from Lyme disease and other harmful health effects caused by these tiny but persistent pests.

How to avoid ticks- hiking trail
Local trail

Common tick species

There are many different species of ticks found all over the world.

In North America, the most common ticks are listed below:

Blacklegged Tick / Deer Tick (Ixodes scapularis)

This tick is most commonly found in the northeast and upper midwest United States and eastern Canada. Blacklegged ticks thrive in damp, and shady environments.

It looks like a small, dark dot and is often hard to spot.

The black-legged tick can carry Lyme disease, so it’s important to be on the lookout for deer ticks when hiking in areas where it is commonly found.

American Dog Tick / Wood Tick (Dermacentor variabilis)

This tick is found throughout the eastern, southeastern, and central United States and mostly western Canadian provinces.

It has a distinctive pattern of red, white, and brown on its body and is usually larger than the black-legged tick.

The American dog tick can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Tularemia, can Canine tick paralysis.

They are most active from mid-April to early September.

Lone Star Tick (Amblyomma americanum)

This tick is found in the south and eastern United States.

It has a white spot on its back and is usually smaller than the American dog tick.

The lone star tick can transmit ehrlichiosis, heartland virus, and Southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI) so it is important to be aware of this species when hiking in areas where it is commonly found.

According to the CDC the greatest risk of being bitten exists in early spring through late fall and the nymph and adult females most frequently bite humans.

Brown Dog Tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus)

This tick is found worldwide but is most common in the southern United States. It is brown in color and usually smaller than the American dog tick. The brown dog tick does not usually transmit disease to humans but can transmit diseases to dogs, so it is important to be aware of this species when hiking with your dog.

Brown dog tick

Tick-Born Diseases

Listed below are a few of the common tick-borne illnesses found in North America.

Lyme disease

Is a well known tick-borne disease in the United States and Canada, but it is not the only one.

Other illnesses that can be contracted from ticks include Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, and tularemia.

Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi, which is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected deer tick.

Symptoms of Lyme disease

Lyme disease symptoms include fever, chills, headaches, fatigue, and a characteristic bulls-eye rash. Symptoms may appear between 3 to 30 days after bite.

If left untreated, Lyme disease can lead to serious health problems, including joint pain, neurological problems, and even heart problems.

Lyme disease is often diagnosed by symptoms such as a rash and known exposure to infected ticks, but lab testing can be helpful as well.

Most Lyme disease cases are treatable with antibiotics in a few weeks time.

For the most part, ticks would need to be attached for 36 to 48 hours before transmitting Lyme disease.

Most people are infected through the bites of baby ticks called nymphs they are very small and difficult to see. They commonly bite during spring and summer.

Adult ticks also transmit Lyme disease. They are larger and easier to spot. Adult ticks most commonly bite during the fall. 

Bulls-eye rash on upper arm caused by a bite from an infected blacklegged tick (deer tick)

Ehrlichiosis

Is another tick-borne disease that is caused by a bacterium called Ehrlichia chaffeensis.

This illness is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected Lone Star tick bites.

Symptoms of ehrlichiosis

Symptoms of ehrlichiosis include flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, headaches, muscle aches, and nausea. Signs of ehrlichiosis usually appear within 14 days after a bite.

If left untreated, ehrlichiosis can lead to more serious health problems, or life-threatening issues.

Tularemia

This is yet another tick-borne illness that can be contracted from the bite of an infected tick.

This rare illness is caused by a bacterium called Francisella tularensis.

Symptoms of Tularemia

Symptoms of Tularemia include fever, chills, headaches, and joint pain.

Antibiotics will be used to treat tularemia. The length of treatment typically lasts 10-21 days, depending on how severe the illness is and what medication is used.

Although patients may feel symptoms for a few weeks following treatment, full recovery is common.

Rocky mountain spotted fever

Is a tick-borne illness that is caused by a bacterium called Rickettsia rickettsii.

This illness is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected Rocky Mountain wood tick or American dog tick.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever symptoms

Symptoms of Rocky Mountain spotted fever include fever, chills, nausea, headaches, and a rash that starts on the wrists and ankles and spreads to the rest of the body. 

Symptoms usually appear 2 to 14 days after a bite. The tick must be attached for a duration of 6 to 8 hours for transmission to occur, and sometimes requires more than 24 hours.

If left untreated, RMSF can be a serious illness, and it can lead to death.

Practical tips on how to avoid ticks while hiking

Heading to a tick-infested area? Be sure to follow these tips:

By DanTD

1. Wear the right hiking clothes

To prevent tick bites, wear light-colored clothing (as ticks are easier to spot against a light background) and tuck your pants into your socks to prevent ticks from crawling up the inside of your pant legs.

Additionally, don long sleeves to protect your forearms from tick bites. Consider wearing a hat to prevent ticks from crawling onto your scalp. For your feet, opt for closed-toe footwear and socks whenever possible.

Consider investing in permethrin-treated clothing, which contains a tick repellent.

How to Avoid Ticks: Don't let them Ruin Your Hiking Adventure

2. Use insect repellent to repel ticks

Insect repellents containing DEET or permethrin can help to prevent tick bites. Apply tick repellent to exposed skin, and be sure to follow the instructions on the label.

If you’d like to try a natural tick repellent, you can apply lemon eucalyptus oil as a chemical-free option.

How to Avoid Ticks: Don't let them Ruin Your Hiking Adventure

3. Avoid high grass and leaf litter

Ticks often live in wooded areas with high grass and leaf litter, so try to avoid these areas when hiking. Ticks don’t fly or jump, so they’ll wait at the top of tall grass for an unsuspecting host to wander past, then they latch on.

Walk in the middle of the trail as you’ll be less likely to brush up against the vegetation where ticks might be lurking.

How to Avoid Ticks: Don't let them Ruin Your Hiking Adventure

4. Check your gear

Ticks can hitch a ride on gear like backpacks and camping gear, so make sure to give your gear a once-over. Ticks are most likely to be found in areas like seams and pockets, so pay close attention to these areas when checking yourself and your gear.

How to Avoid Ticks: Don't let them Ruin Your Hiking Adventure

5. Don’t forget about your four-legged friends!

After your hike with your furry companion, make sure to thoroughly check them for ticks.

Dogs are just as susceptible to tick bites as humans and can bring ticks into your home if not inspected before entering.

If you find any ticks on your dog, promptly remove them.

How to Avoid Ticks: Don't let them Ruin Your Hiking Adventure

6. Do a tick check when you get home from your hike

When you return from your hike, make sure to perform a thorough tick check on yourself. Pay close attention to areas such as your hairline, armpits, groin, and behind your knees.

You have several methods for checking for ticks. You can visually inspect your body to identify any attached ticks. Employing a mirror can aid in checking hard-to-see spots like your scalp and back.

Utilize a fine-toothed comb to conduct a tick check on your head. Gently comb through your hair in small sections, and scan for any ticks that may be clinging to the comb.

How to remove a tick

If you find a tick on your body remove it as soon as possible.

  1. You can use a clean pair of fine tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
  2. Pull upward on the tick with even pressure to remove.

Do not try to pull the tick out by jerking it or twisting it; this may cause the mouth-parts to separate from the body and stay in your skin.

If this occurs, use tweezers to remove the mouth. If you are having difficulty removing the mouth with tweezers, leave it be and let your skin heal naturally.

After you’ve removed the tick, make sure to wash the area where the bite occurred with rubbing alcohol and wash your hands with soap and water.

Removing a tick with tweezers

Disposing of a live tick

It is important to dispose of a tick properly to prevent it from biting someone else.

Once the tick is removed, it’s recommended that you save it in an alcohol-filled jar. Write the date when the tick was removed so that if disease symptoms occur, pathogen testing may be possible.

You may discard the tick if no symptoms arise within a month of removal.

How To Avoid Ticks: Don't Let Them Ruin Your Hiking Adventure
Rocky mountain wood tick found on my dog.

Visiting the doctor after a tick bite

It’s important to keep an eye on the site of the tick bite for any signs of a reaction, such as redness, swelling, or a rash. If you develop any of these symptoms, see a doctor as soon as possible.

Your doctor will likely order blood tests to check for the presence of the bacteria.

Inform your healthcare provider of the following:

-The location on your body where the tick was attached.

-How long you believe the tick was attached to you.

-Your whereabouts at the time when you were bitten or may have been exposed to ticks.

Protect your pets from tick bites

Dogs frequently pick up ticks when playing in low grass or walking through wooded areas, so proper treatment is essential.

Lyme disease in pets is most often characterized by sore muscles and joints, though some animals may also develop a fever or fatigue. If you think your pet has Lyme disease or would like to discuss tick prevention methods like topical treatments and sprays, please contact your veterinarian.

It is also advisable that you groom your pet regularly, wash their bedding often, and inspect them frequently for ticks.

How To Avoid Ticks: Don't Let Them Ruin Your Hiking Adventure
Tick found on our family dog

Final thoughts

Taking steps to avoid ticks while hiking is the best way to protect yourself from Lyme disease, tularemia and other tick-borne diseases. When hiking in tick country, be sure to follow the tips listed above to avoid coming into contact with them. Happy Hiking!

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