This resource has been supplemented with tick identification information provided by Ben's Tick & Insect Repellent, American Hiking Society Sponsor.
Summer brings warm weather and great hiking. Unfortunately, ticks appreciate the season as much as we do and they pose a serious threat to hiker health. Though ticks themselves seldom cause medical problems, the diseases they transmit can wreak havoc on a hiker’s body. Elrichosis, Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are just a few of the tick-borne pathogens of which hikers should be aware.
Did you know that people are at most risk of a tick bite between May and July when larva ticks mature into nymphs? We're grateful to our friends at Ben's Tick & Insect Repellent for sharing more information about the types of ticks that exist across the country:
- Blacklegged (Deer) Tick: Found across the U.S. These ticks are the most likely to transmit Lyme disease but they are known to transmit at least 5 other illnesses. Currently Lyme disease cases are mostly found in the northeast and upper midwest. It takes 24 hours to transmit Lyme disease so removing these ticks as soon as possible is essential. Lyme disease is estimated to infect over 300K people every year and cases have increased 30% over the last decade.
- Brown Dog Tick: Found across the U.S. They are most often found on dogs and can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotter Fever which is fairly rare. They are the most common vector for this disease in the southwestern U.S.
- Lone Star Tick: Widely distributed in the eastern U.S. but most common in the south. They transmit at least 5 diseases, including the alpha-gal or red meat allergy which has been recently becoming more prevalent. The alpha-gal allergy can cause a life-threatening reaction and increases the risk of heart disease.
- American Dog (Wood) Tick: Widely distributed east of the Rocky Mountains and in areas along the Pacific coast. They also can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever as well as tularemia.
- Other ticks include: Groundhog Tick found in the eastern U.S., Gulf Coast Tick found in the southeast and mid-Atlantic states, Rocky Mountain Wood Tick found in the Rocky Mountain states, Soft Tick found in the west, and Western Blacklegged Tick found in the Pacific Coast states.
Here are a few easy steps to prevent tick-borne illness:
- Determine risk: Spring and early summer are high-risk for ticks because ticks are in an earlier stage of their development, called “nymphs.” Nymphs often carry heavier loads of disease-causing pathogens, and are smaller and harder to spot. Tall grass and brush are higher-risk, too, because ticks can easily climb on to hikers.
- Wear long and wear light! Wear long-sleeve shirts and long pants of a light color. Lighter colors seem to attract fewer ticks and make the ones that do end up on you easier to spot. Lightweight nylon or polyester garments are almost as cool as shorts and protect from the sun as a bonus!
- Seal the cracks. Tuck your shirt into your pants and tuck your pants into your socks. Gaiters can add an additional level of protection and keep small rocks and dirt out of your shoes too.
- Repel invaders! Consider treating your clothing with a persistent repellent chemical called permethrin. This substance, applied to clothing, repels ticks and biting insects for up to 2 weeks. Some clothing comes already coated with this deterrent. Apply a additional repellent to all exposed skin.
- Wash your hiking clothes. As soon as you get off the trail, wash your hiking clothes and dry them in a hot dryer for an hour. The heat will kill any ticks.
- Tick check. Showering within two hours of leaving the trail will help wash off any ticks which haven’t latched on. Using a hand-held or full length mirror, take this time to check yourself for ticks, especially checking armpits, hair, ears and behind the ears, belly button, behind the knees, and groin. Be sure to also thoroughly check your children and pets.
- Remove any ticks. If you do happen to find a tick on yourself, do not use the old trick of poking the tick with a hot match head until it comes out. Do use tweezers and grab the tick as close to the skin as possible and slowly pull it out. If you can’t grab the head in the first go, make sure to pull it out before washing the bite with a disinfectant. View the CDC’s easy-to-follow tick removal instructions and pictures.
- Stay vigilant. If you develop a fever, rash, muscle and/or joint aches, flu-like symptoms or become ill, be sure to mention to your doctor possible tick exposure. Lyme disease is very serious and can cause permanent damage in bones and the nervous system. Tick bites that develop a bulls-eye ring are infected and should be treated immediately.