It’s that time of year again, where we start thinking about all the outdoor activities we can do as it starts getting warmer outside. Activities like hiking, biking, camping, hunting, target shooting and many other sports may take us into the desert or mountains and into contact with ticks.
You have to worry about coming in contact with ticks just about anywhere in the contiguous United States. Some ticks carry Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. These illnesses can lead to hospitalization, and in worst case scenarios, can cause death. There are several different species in the US, and depending on where you live there may be one or more varieties to worry about.
Let’s talk about 7 common tick species in the United States, how you can prevent tick bites, and how to remove ticks if you are bitten.
7 Types of Ticks Common to the United States
There are several things you can do to prevent tick bites, especially during the warmer months between April and September.
- Apply repellent that contains 20% Deet to your face, neck, and ears. Avoid getting it in your eyes and mouth.
- Wear light-colored clothes which will make it easier to see if ticks are on your clothes.
- Stay in the middle of trails and avoid high brush and vegetation.
- Wear long pants. Tuck your pants into your socks and tuck your shirt into your pants.
- There are even lines of clothing that have been treated with Permethrin (a type of insect repellent) that can stay on your clothes through multiple washings.
Once you get home or back to your camping spot, do a tick check. Strip down and use a hand held mirror to search the places ticks love: your hair, underarms, belly button, between your legs and behind your knees, for example.
If you’re a parent carefully check for ticks on your children and pets. Perform this check before going into your home, camper or tent.
Amazingly, ticks can live through a cycle in your washing machine, even with hot water. But they won't be as lucky when you run your clothes through a cycle in the dryer on high heat.
Removing a Tick
If you find that, despite all your diligence, a tick has embedded itself into your body, you need to remove it as quickly as possible. As you remove it, make sure that the tick and its mouth are fully intact and no part of the tick is left on your body.
We’ve all probably heard about using petroleum jelly, fingernail polish, alcohol, and even using heat or cold to try and get ticks to back out, but these things usually won't work and may even cause the tick to dig in deeper and secure its hold.
The best method of removal is to get a pair of tweezers and grasp the tick firmly as close to your skin as possible and carefully pull upwards with steady, even pressure. Be careful not to squeeze too hard because fluid from the tick can cause infection or spread disease.
Do not twist or pull hard. By using steady, gentle pressure—even causing the skin to tent a little—the tick should pull out within a minute or two.
If the tick does not come out intact, you should see your primary care doctor or clinic and make sure everything gets removed.
Signs and symptoms to watch for after a Tick Bite
If you or a family member has been bitten by a tick, you need to watch for signs of illness. Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Tularemia are a few of the most common illnesses to worry about. Signs and symptoms include body aches, fever, fatigue, joint pain or rashes. See your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms after being bitten.
With this in mind, go out and have a great summer. Enjoy the backcountry, but be careful and make sure you take the necessary precautions.