Over the past couple of years, tick-related diseases have been steadily increasing. Although exact reasons are not known, scientists theorize it’s because many species of ticks are migrating.
An unfortunate example is the lone star tick expanding its territory from the southeastern United States to the northern and midwestern states. Additionally, the black-legged tick may also be exploring beyond its origins since Lyme disease numbers have doubled.
Because of their size and mass movements, there’s no doubt that you’ll encounter different types of ticks — often in your backyard. Unfortunately, this means that simply using over-the-counter DEET sprays may not work for every species. Instead, the best way to prevent tick bites is to learn where and how to identify them and practice proper removal and prevention methods.
What Are Ticks?
Ticks are parasitic arachnids that thrive on the proteins present in human and animal blood. They have oval or round body shapes that are a shiny, brownish-red color. However, spotting these creatures can be challenging since they’re typically between three and five millimeters long.
Although small, these pests know how to stick around: The oldest fossilized ticks are over 100 million years old. So, not only do ticks cause tremendous danger to humans, animals, and livestock, but they’ve also been around long enough to have feasted on dinosaurs from the Cretaceous period.
In the United States, there are a few common species of ticks:
- American dog tick
- Deer black-legged tick
- Brown dog tick
- Lone star tick
- Pacific Coast tick
- Rocky Mountain wood tick
- Western black-legged tick
These species come in different sizes and colors, which means that you should take the time to recognize the species you might come across, which depends on where you live.
How To Prevent Ticks From Getting On You
Although you only have a 0% to 50% chance of being bit by a tick infected with Lyme disease, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. So for those who crave the outdoors at any given moment, be sure to follow these essential tips on tick bite prevention.
Tip #1: Prepare Before You Go Outdoors
Before you embark on your hike, you must prepare your clothes so that ticks aren’t as attracted to you and can’t get onto your skin as easily:
- Treat your belongings, clothes, and skin with EPA-registered insect repellents containing DEET or at least 0.5% permethrin.
- Buy permethrin-treated clothing and gear or pre-treat your clothes before wearing them.
- Wear light-colored, protective clothing so that it’s easy to spot dark-colored ticks.
- Tuck your pant legs into socks. If you’re wearing shorts, wear long socks and protective undergarments to prevent ticks from traveling through loose clothing.
Tip #2: Stay Out of Tick-Infested Areas
If you know where to expect ticks, then you can do your best to avoid them. Ticks prefer:
- Grassy, brushy, and wooded areas
- Animals like deer, rabbits, birds, lizards, squirrels, mice, and other rodents (additionally, if you hunt, always check for ticks before you make dinner.)
- Moist and shady spots (so stick to sunny and dry areas if you can)
- Elevated regions like the Rocky Mountain states, with elevations of 4,000 to 10,500 feet.
“People should be aware of ticks and where they can encounter them,” said José Ribeiro, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the Vector Biology Section of the Laboratory of Malaria and Vector Research in NIAID’s Division of Intramural Research. “The east coast here in the U.S., parts of the south and Midwest, and even in California you have the major [tick-borne] disease, which is Lyme disease.”
If you plan to go camping or out on the weekend, stick to trails whenever possible. And if you’re in some areas of the U.S., your chances of being in close contact with ticks are pretty high no matter where you are.
Tip #3: Check Yourself for Ticks
After you’ve returned to your campsite or home base, check your clothing, gear, and skin for any ticks.
Do a thorough check in the following hot spots:
- Under the arms
- Around the ears
- Around your hair
- Your belly button and waist
- Between the legs
- Back of the knees
Ticks prefer warm and moist areas of the body and they’re excellent crawlers. So even if you’re fully clothed, you may still be at risk for a tick bite.
Identifying a Tick Bite
Since ticks stay latched onto your skin, it’s easy to figure out if you’ve been bit by one. However, if you don’t find one—for example, because it’s in your hair—then the tick will detach and fall off after 10 days of continuously drawing blood.
Treating a Tick Bite
If you’ve found a tick embedded into your skin, then there’s a particular process you need to follow to remove it safely. Here’s how you can treat a tick bite right at home:
Step #1: Safely Remove the Tick
It takes around 36 hours of attachment for a tick to potentially spread diseases like Lyme. That’s why time is essential. If the tick is attached to your skin, plan to remove it immediately using this handy procedure:
- Wearing gloves, use clean tweezers from your Swiss Army knife to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. This ensures that you’re also removing the head and mouthparts embedded into the skin for feeding. If some mouthparts remain, don’t worry: Your body will push them out naturally.
- With the tweezers grasped around the tick, keep as close to the skin as possible. Pull the tick out gently and steadily and avoid twisting or trying different angles.
- When removed, place the tick in a container or plastic bag for identification.
Step #2: Cleanse the Bite Site
After removing the tick, wash your hands thoroughly and clean the bite site with warm water and gentle, fragrance-free soap. To prevent infection, apply alcohol or hydrogen peroxide to the bite from your first aid kit.
Step #3: See Your Primary Care Physician
Even if you get the tick entirely removed, it’s a good idea to see your primary care physician so that they can identify the species and check for potential exposure to any dangerous diseases. Deer ticks, for example, are notoriously common carriers of Lyme disease.
You should also visit your PCP if you begin experiencing odd and uncomfortable symptoms, such as:
- Flu-like symptoms, like a fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, aches, and pains, or rashes within a month of the bite
- The bite area develops a lesion within a month of the bite. In addition, Lyme disease leaves behind a “bullseye” shaped rash at the bite site, which requires immediate medical attention.
- The bite site becomes inflamed, red, or infected within a month of removal.
Where Are Ticks Found?
Although ticks are attracted to moist and humid areas, they live just about everywhere in the United States.
The most widespread species is the brown dog tick, which can live in almost every state and region. However, the south to the northeast is a significant hotspot for ticks as well, where the brown dog tick, American dog tick, deer tick, and lone star tick are commonly found.
Ticks are notoriously difficult to remove once they’ve decided to latch onto a person or animal, so it’s essential to stay away from areas that they frequent the most. This includes plants low to the ground, logs, and other low-lying objects and foliage.
“They like those tucked-away places where the skin is soft and where they can hide without being detected,” explains scientist Richard Ostfled, Ph.D. “They don’t move fast at all.”
Although they’re slow movers, ticks really stick to their guns and latch on when they’re hungry. Then, like fleas, they perform something close to a jump or a leap called “questing.” They grasp the object they’re on with their back legs while reaching out with their front legs and lurch forward onto your clothes or skin.
What Diseases Can Ticks Cause?
There are several diseases that ticks carry and can transmit via a bite, such as:
- Lyme Disease
- Spotted fever
- Powassan virus
Symptoms vary depending on the disease. However, if you’ve been infected, you can generally expect these signs:
- Pain and swelling
- Burning sensation and blisters
- Breathing difficulty
- Neck stiffness and joint pain
- Rashes that are consistent with tick-borne diseases
When you’re embarking on a much-needed adventure out on the field, the last thing you want to worry about is dealing with ticks. However, the best ways to avoid tick bites is through prevention:
- Wear light-colored clothing and spray yourself with insect repellent that has DEET and 0.5% permethrin
- Avoid tick-infested areas, like leaf litter, tall grass, and anything off-the-trail.
- Check yourself for ticks when you return to your home base and know-how to remove a tick if you’ve found one.
It’s always best to be prepared when entering the field. That’s why Self Reliance Outfitters offers so much more than the gear and supplies essential for any outdoor adventure.To help you master any survival situation, we also have a separate YouTube channel and blog which includes how-to guides and the most common questions. Check out the Self Reliance Outfitters YouTube channel and survival blog today.