It’s a beautiful day, and you’re thinking of going for a hike. You’ll get to see the foliage, get some exercise, and get to see a beautiful vista at the top. Sounds idyllic, right? Hiking can be fun and freeing, but it’s also a high-risk activity for getting a tick bite and contracting Lyme disease.
Any time the temperature is above freezing, ticks are out, so whether you are hiking in New England, the Rocky Mountains, or the Alps, it’s important to Be Tick AWARE. Lyme and other tick-borne diseases are not just a “woods of New England” problem. Black-legged deer ticks, which carry Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, are found throughout the United States and in many other parts of the world. There are also other kinds of ticks, such as the Lone star tick, which carry other pathogens that can cause serious diseases.
So, the bottom line is, if you’re going outside—particularly to hike in a woodsy area where ticks like to live—there are tick prevention steps you should take before, during, and after your activity.
Wear Proper Hiking Attire
Before even going outside, you can dress in appropriate clothing as a way to prevent tick bites while you’re hiking.
What to Wear While Hiking to Avoid Ticks
You want to keep as much of your skin covered as possible while you’re hiking. This means:
- Long sleeve shirts and long pants
- Shirt tucked in at the waist so ticks can’t get under your shirt
- Pants tucked into high socks so ticks can’t crawl under your pants onto your ankles, calves, and shins
- Close-toed shoes
- A hat with your hair tucked in
What Color Clothes to Wear to Avoid Ticks
Wear white or light-colored clothing so ticks are easier to spot.
Use Tick Repellent on Your Body and Clothes
In addition to wearing the proper clothing for hiking, you can also keep ticks and other bugs away by using insect repellent on your body. Apply EPA-approved tick repellent to all exposed areas of skin, remembering to get spots like your face and the back of your neck (don’t spray repellent directly on your face; rub it in with your hands). Common types of tick repellent include DEET and picaridin, and oil of lemon eucalyptus.
Check out this handy chart to find out important details about common tick repellents such as how long they last, how effective they are, and precautions and side effects. Certain natural tick repellents may seem safer than DEET, but in fact oil of lemon eucalyptus is not safe for children under 3; ingesting it can cause neurological toxicity. Others like essential plant oils give very little amounts of protection and are not EPA-approved. Always consult the GLA chart and read the back of the bottle for safety precautions. Remember that you may need to reapply tick repellent depending on how long you’re hiking, and if the repellent washes off from water or sweat.
When we go outdoors, we often think about spraying insect repellent on our skin, but did you know that you can also treat your clothing and gear? A product called permethrin can be applied to clothing and gear (but not skin) and actually kills ticks. You can buy permethrin and treat your clothes yourself, or you can order clothes from outdoor clothing companies that sell clothes pre-treated with permethrin.
If you are spraying your clothes yourself, you should do so outside. Hang up the clothing, coat it in permethrin, and allow it to fully air dry before wearing it or bringing it inside. Permethrin-treated clothing lasts about six weeks, or six washes; pre-treated clothing might last longer. If you’re treating your own clothes, remember to re-treat them after six weeks or washes.
In addition to treating your clothes with permethrin, you can also treat your hat, your shoes, and your gear such as a backpack, tent, or outdoor chair. The goal is to keep ticks away not just from your body but from anything that you touch or use, so that the ticks don’t climb from your gear onto you.
Avoid Tick Concentrated Areas
In general, you should think about ticks any time you’re outdoors, especially during the summer months. There are some places that ticks particularly like to live, where you’re more likely to encounter them. Ticks like moist, shady areas including wooded areas, tall grass, grassy areas like lawns and playgrounds, shrubs, leaf litter, beach grass, bushy areas, stone walls, and perimeters where the lawn meets the woods. If you’re heading into the woods for a hike, avoid trails that are overgrown, grass, and extremely wooded or bushy areas. If you’re bringing your dog along with you on your hike, remember to keep them out of these areas, as well. Dogs can get Lyme disease, and ticks can jump from dogs to humans. You may not be able avoid these areas on your hike, so make sure to do consistent tick checks on yourself, your kids, and your pets throughout the day.
Do Tick Checks
One of the most important ways to prevent ticks while hiking is to do frequent and thorough tick checks. Ticks are very tiny, so you might not see them. Feel along your clothing and skin for bumps, paying close attention to the back of the knees, groin, armpit, bellybutton, scalp, and in and behind the ears. Check everywhere—ticks love to hide! Do tick checks on young children who can’t do so themselves or teach older children how to check for ticks. Check the skin and fur of your dog’s entire body, remembering to look in the scalp, inside and outside the ears, around the eyes and eyelids, under the collar, on the back of the neck, under the legs, in the elbows, in the groin area, between the toes, and under the tail. You can run a lint brush over your own skin and clothing, over a dog’s fur, and over your gear to help pick up ticks that you don’t feel or see.
After you come inside, do another tick check, and then shower or bathe as soon as possible. Put your clothing in the dryer on high heat for 10-15 minutes to kill ticks (putting clothes in the washing machine will not kill ticks; only the high heat will).
What to Do If You Find a Tick
A tick transmits pathogens only when it is feeding, meaning only when it is attached to you. If the tick is crawling on you or your gear, don’t touch it with your bare hands; you want to avoid touching the tick’s mouthparts and coming in contact with its saliva, where it carries pathogens like Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. If you find a tick crawling, there may be other ticks around that are attached to you.
If you do find a tick attached to you, stay calm! Then remove the tick as soon as you can by following these steps:
- Using fine-pointed tweezers or a tick remover tool, grasp the tick at the place of attachment, as close to the skin as possible.
- Gently pull the tick straight out with steady, even pressure. Do not squeeze, twist or jerk the tick.
- Using the tweezers or tool, place the tick in a zippered plastic bag with a moist cotton ball and bring or send it to your local health department or private lab for testing. Do not touch the tick with your bare hands.
- Wash your hands with soap and water and apply rubbing alcohol or antiseptic to the bite area.
- Monitor the bite site. Take a photo of the site as soon as possible. Draw a circle around the bite to easily track if a rash develops and it expands. It’s important to note you may not see a rash or a may appear on other parts of the body. Moreover, it may not be in the form of a classic bulls-eye.
- Call or visit your doctor immediately to discuss prophylactic antibiotics as a preventive measure. Write down any symptoms you experience after the bite or use the Lyme Symptom Tracker app. Do not wait for symptoms to appear before contacting your physician, though. Waiting and seeing is a dangerous approach to Lyme disease.
Watch this video for a step-by-step demonstration of removing a tick.
Can Ticks Be Found Year-Round?
Peak season is April through September, but ticks can be found any time the temperature is above freezing. For best disease control, it’s important to follow tick prevention protocols no matter the time of year.
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The above material is provided for information purposes only. The material (a) is not nor should be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, nor (b) does it necessarily represent endorsement by or an official position of Global Lyme Alliance, Inc. or any of its directors, officers, advisors or volunteers. Advice on the testing, treatment or care of an individual patient should be obtained through consultation with a physician who has examined that patient or is familiar with that patient’s medical history.