Ticks are nasty parasitic creatures. Not only do they ambush you and latch on with their mandibles, but they can quickly pass terrible diseases on to you as well. The Center for Disease Control (CDC), which monitors and prepares for outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics, has a standing plea to prepare for and prevent tick bites.
Lyme disease is on their radar, and they want us to avoid contracting it and possibly even spreading it to our children. In this post we will break down the different diseases ticks carry, how to remove a tick, and the multiple ways you can prevent a tick bite in the first place.
Lyme Disease and Other Diseases Ticks Can Infect You With
There are many threatening diseases out there and plenty of animals and insects can carry them as a host. When an organism carries a disease it is called a ‘disease vector’. Ticks are very dangerous disease vectors because of how hard they are to detect and prevent. A few diseases that ticks can transmit include:
- Lyme Disease
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
- Southern Tick Rash
- Human Ganulocytic Anaplasmosis (HGA)
The full list goes on and on, and learning to identify symptoms of the worst ones can help you prepare for an encounter with one. Lyme disease tops this list as it is a hard one to diagnose, but can debilitate you for the rest of your life and even be passed on to your children before they are born. Many people diagnosed with Lyme disease also have HGA and babesiosis transmitted by the tick, which can even further complicate diagnosis and treatment.
Ticks relish areas that are heavily wooded, have tall grass, or plenty of ground brush. When you go outside camping, hiking, gardening, or hunting- you are probably in their backyard. If you venture into these areas, you need to know how to protect yourself, treat your clothing, and remove ticks if you spot them.
Wearing white or other light colors can help you spot ticks more quickly, so you can brush them off before they bite.
Keep Deer Away
Deer and ticks happen to run in the same circles. They enjoy the same habitat, and a tick is more than happy to make a deer its own habitat. One easy way to reduce your chance of encountering ticks is by avoiding deer. Deer are the preferred host of the formidable deer tick or black-legged tick. They also latch on to mice, lizards, and birds.
Deer ticks are the main vector for Lyme disease in the US. Since deer are the main prey of a deer tick, staying clear of deer can reduce your chances of being bitten by a deer tick and subsequent Lyme disease infection.
Treat Clothing with Permethrin
We used it in the military, and it is pretty powerful stuff to treat your clothes, shoes, and equipment. It’s easy to use and apply, and it just takes a little forethought so you can have enough time for it to dry. Once you apply it to your clothing, it works as a great insect repellent and can be the first part of your defense against ticks. Sawyer makes some pretty strong and resilient treatments: Sawyer Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent.
Picaridin vs. DEET: The Best Tick Prevention Spray
DEET is the well-known mosquito and tick repellent main ingredient. It’s been proven to work well and is the most common active ingredient in off-the-shelf insect repellents. DEET stands for N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide so we are pretty lucky it condenses down to an easy-to-remember acronym. DEET has been proven by studies to be generally safe to use, although many are wary of it due to its potency towards insects. People are so wary in fact that one of the most searched terms on Google for DEET is “Can you get cancer from DEET?” The answer is complicated, in that studies have not provided enough evidence to say whether it does or does not cause cancer.
Picaridin (also known as icaridin) has been shown in studies to be just as effective as DEET in repelling most insects. Picaridin has the benefit of being odorless and not greasy like DEET repellents can be. Only a limited number of repellents use picardin, and they typically cost a little bit more. Unfortunately, studies do show that DEET is slightly more effective at preventing tick bites.
Any slight effectiveness could make the difference in getting a tick bite, so DEET wins out the comparison for ticks despite its drawbacks. 30% DEET content is recommended for repelling ticks, and Ben’s Repellent starts off with that DEET content: Ben’s Mosquito and Tick Repellent.
Removing Ticks the Right Way
It seems like I’ve heard of a million ways to remove a tick. Don’t listen to every method and wives’ tale, since some can leave the head attached, give you a higher risk of infection, or even hurt you more than the tick would. They make tools that you can use for tick removal.
Besides these tools, tweezers or some other method of getting a skinny, sturdy material between the head and your skin is the best method. Just pinching and pulling the body of the tick can often pop off the tick’s head and leave it attached to your skin. After you remove a tick, you’ll want to watch for any red flags that may indicate that you picked up a disease from the tick. Those red flags could include fever, rash, and odd behavior.
The CDC’s Plea for Help with Ticks and Lyme Disease
The CDC doesn’t mince words when it comes to ticks and mosquitoes. They would eliminate parasite vectors if they could, but currently, they have to rely on just asking us to protect ourselves. That doesn’t mean they aren’t trying though; there is current research into genetically engineered mosquitoes that kill their own kind. This could help combat dengue fever and malaria but poses its own risks in the unknown long-term effects of genetic modification.
Perhaps it’s best if we just heed the CDC’s advice and combat ticks and mosquitoes on our own to avoid infection. Here is the link to the CDC’s website where they explain how to stop ticks and the diseases they spread: CDC Stop Ticks!
The Final Word
If a tick passes Lyme disease to you or someone in your family, it can become a nightmare. Identifying the conditions and symptoms and treating the disease can be extremely difficult. The best way to avoid all of this is to be smart and heed the CDC’s warning about protecting yourself. Prevention is paramount when it comes to tick bites, so make sure you prepare before you head into the woods.
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Keep exploring, stay prepared, and be safe.
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