Summer is perfect for swimming, hiking, and camping. Unfortunately, it’s also perfect for ticks. Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself and your family from ticks this summer.
1. How to Identify Ticks
While there are many different species of ticks, they all typically have flat, hard-shelled bodies and either six or eight legs, depending on their stage of development. Ticks are usually brownish red or black in color, and they don’t have any wings. Ticks can be as small as a poppy seed, but they vary in size and are usually smaller than a quarter of an inch in length.
2. How to Prevent Tick Bites
Ticks are a nasty addition to summer conditions, but there are ways to prevent unwanted run-ins with these little bloodsuckers.
Avoid “Danger Zones”
Ticks are particularly active during June, July, and August: about 95% of Lyme disease cases are contracted during summer months. Ticks are also more prevalent in heavily wooded areas. Avoid spending an extended amount of time in the shade, in long grass, or in forests. These are all tick hot spots. Your yard isn’t immune, either. Ticks can live just about anywhere, and they’re ready and waiting for a snack.
Use Tick Repellent
Tick repellant can be an effective way to combat ticks and subsequent bites. The EPA recommends looking for repellents with 25%–50% of the active ingredient DEET. Another way to combat ticks is the repellent permethrin. Permethrin shouldn't be applied to the skin but is highly effective when used on clothing. Before heading out to camp, hike, or frolic in the woods, soak your clothes in permethrin. Allow the permethrin to completely dry before wearing your clothes.
Inspect After Exposure
Be sure to inspect your whole body for ticks or signs of a tick bite after extended exposure. Ticks tend to be attracted to warm, dark areas, so be sure to check your entire body—particularly your scalp and underarms. Have a buddy check your back and areas of your scalp that you can’t see. If you do find a tick, address it promptly.
3. What to Do If You’ve Been Bitten
Yikes! It happens to the best of us. Here’s what to do if you’ve been bitten by a tick.
Remove the Tick
When ticks bite, they actually burrow into your skin. When the tick bites, it cuts into your skin and inserts a barbed feeding tube. Because of this, the only way to fully remove the tick is to extract the entire mouth. Use a pair of tweezers to grab the tick as close to your skin as possible. Pull the tick straight out to prevent snapping the body of the tick off the mouth. Once you’ve removed the tick, be sure to check that there are no remaining parts left in your skin. If there are, remove these with the tweezers.
Clean the Area
After you’ve completely removed the tick, clean the bite with rubbing alcohol. Wash it off with soap and water, and rinse well. If the area is sore or bleeding, you can apply an antibiotic ointment to aid in healing.
Watch for Symptoms
Not all ticks carry disease, and even if you are bitten by a diseased tick, it doesn’t mean you will contract the disease. If you can remove the tick within 24 hours, you’ll likely avoid contracting the bacteria that causes Lyme disease—or any other disease the tick may be carrying. Still, it is wise to monitor your body for possible symptoms. In general, look for flu-like symptoms (fever, chills, muscle aches) as well as a bullseye rash around the bite. Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which is far less common than Lyme disease, affects about 500 people a year and usually causes a fever and rash. If you suspect you have contracted Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever, seek medical attention immediately.
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