Lauren R. Stevens | Hikes and Walks: Stay outside, but play it safe this tick season
Tick tock: It's time to talk about ticks, especially ticks that might carry Lyme disease.
Ticks are a serious problem, but they should not keep you out of the woods.
Another gift from the warming climate, deer ticks, otherwise known as black-legged ticks (Ixodes scapularis), have come to your neighborhood. Their hosts are deer and mice. The adult females and the nymphs of the ticks are most likely to be infected with the Lyme disease bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi, and, of course, looking for a nice warm body to latch on to. They want your blood.
Remember, though, not all ticks are Lyme carriers (although other ticks have other diseases) and not even all deer ticks carry it. If you want to look close, both the female and the nymph have red backsides. "Close" is the watchword, as the adults are the size of sesame seeds and the nymphs, poppy seeds. Dog ticks, for instance, are larger.
The nymphs are more apt to fasten on you in warm weather; the adults, somewhat easier to spot, in the cooler weather. Some people feel them starting to explore their bodies for a good place to grab hold. Some people aren't as sensitive.
So the key idea is to inspect yourself when you return from an outing. You have time: 36 to 48 hours before the disease might be passed to you, according the Centers for Disease Control. Look closely, because ticks like warm, moist places, like the groin, armpits, backside of a knee, scalp.
When you find a tick, remove it. If it hasn't attached, simply pick it off. If it has, any tweezers will do, although you can purchase ones with a built in magnifying glass. The idea is to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull it out. Dispose of the tick in the toilet or some other terminal place.
Again, some people are more sensitive, feeling the bite, like a spider's, while other folks don't seem to notice. The pain and itch of the bite can stick with you, even after the tick is removed. Many people develop a bull's eye shaped rash around the bite. Fever and chills may follow, with fatigue, muscle aches, headaches, and worse. The disease is treatable; if you have the rash or other signs you should see a doctor.
Should you see the doctor if you have removed the tick within the time window? Could be worth a phone call, anyway.
The disease can also infect your dog or cat. They cannot pass it to you, but a tick on them could become a tick on you. So inspect your pets. Collars or medicine can reduce the chances of ticks establishing themselves on your pets.
Perhaps the best way (staying inside doesn't count) for avoiding ticks is to stay on the trail when you're in the woods. In which case, you could be more likely to find a tick on you after gardening. Long sleeves, long pants, tucked into your socks, can help. Wear a cap, especially one sprayed with insect repellent.
Most medical people recommend an insect repellent that contains DEET (Diethyl-meta-toluamide). Experts say that it is harmless to people, even when applied directly to your skin. There are products available that aren't based on DEET, if it makes you nervous. Perhaps a compromise is to use DEET but only on your clothes.
Enjoy the woods. Stay on the trail. Inspect yourself for ticks. Happy trails to you.
Lauren R. Stevens is author of "50 Hikes in the Berkshire Hills," Countryman Press/W.W. Norton, 2016.
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