Dealing with Ticks
Well, it’s that time of year again. Any adventure into the big woods during this summer season is going to set you on a full-blown collision course with some of nature’s most pesky little parasites: ticks.
In the world of science, ticks occupy the same family as spiders. There’s a pretty big difference though, given that the average spider isn’t going to try to dig in and come home with you the next time you take a stroll through the woods. That said, ticks have 8 legs, tipped with claws, and a portion of their legs are actually capable of detecting scent. This means they can smell you from 8 different angles and you better believe that makes them a force to be reckoned with.
While ticks are capable of fasting for long periods of time, they require a steady diet of blood to live. This puts mammals on the menu in a major way. But, similar to other parasites, ticks carry a number of diseases that can turn your weekend wanderings into a verifiable nightmare.
The most common tick-borne disease found in the United States is Lyme disease. Lyme disease is an infection that is transmitted through the bite of a tick that is infected with Borrelia burgdorferi. Those $5-words basically mean that the tick who bit you spent his last meal dining on a deer (or a mouse) that was infected with some ugly stuff. Fever, cold chills, joint pain and muscle aches will await you in your not-too distant future. If the disease is not treated in its early stages, it can go so far as to leave you with memory loss and facial paralysis. The good news is that Lyme disease is not contagious. Even if your family dog gets it, it will not spread to you and yours. If you are bitten, that is a different story.
Want to know how to avoid all of that in the first place? You could decide not to go out into the woods, but where’s the fun in that? Here are three solid things to keep in mind when dealing with nature’s most hated hitchhikers.
1. DEET: Ticks, and most mosquitoes actually, sincerely, dislike DEET. There are plenty of repellents out there on the market that contain DEET. Look to purchase and use a repellent spray or ointment with more than 20% DEET. Lather up with this and your chances of encountering unwanted blood suckers increases greatly.
2. Fire: When ticks dig in to your body, they insert a sword-like structure known as the “hypostome” through the flesh. Actually, imagine a sword with long hooks on either side of it. That is what a tick is placing into the body of its host. This same “sword” has a funnel in the middle of it that projects the tick’s saliva into the body and pulls the host’s blood out. But ticks, similar to most living things, do not like being burned.
The next time you find a tick on you (trust us, you’ll know), hold a lit flame to the bottom of the tick’s body. This will cause the tick to become uncomfortable and dislodge itself from your body. Once the tick has withdrawn, you can pinch and wiggle the rest of it out.
3. Tweezers: hopefully you are the kind of person who keeps a first-aide kit handy when you venture into the woods. If your first aide kit doesn’t have a pair of tweezers, you can supplement by using the business end of a Leatherman or multi-purpose tool. Carefully pinch and wiggle free the tick. This will not be painless but it beats the alternative.
3. Aftermath: If you are going into tick country, do yourself a favor and bring along a plastic zip lock bag. If you are bitten by a tick, remove and toss it into water so as to effectively drown it. Then, place the tick in your plastic bag and put that thing in the freezer when you get home. If you do end up having symptoms of Lyme disease, you can bring the tick habit you in to the hospital and have it tested to confirm.