The weather is getting nice. The sun is out. There is life in the world. Summer is rolling in. With that, people are rolling out the doors. The air will smell of cookouts, sweat, and sunscreen.
There is an enemy that is creeping out as well. People may not think of these little critters. Or, if they do, they may not think much of them. Ticks. They are out all year, but they become more active during the warmer months of the year. No one wants to find them on themselves, on their children, or on their pet.
What do ticks look like?
Most tick larvae (baby stage) are the size of a tiny, itty – bitty grain of sand. Nymphs (middle stage) are about the size of a poppy seed or sesame seed. Unfed adults are about the size of an apple seed or a pencil eraser. They do not have wings, are rather flat, and oval shaped in appearance until they have had a blood meal. Larvae only have six legs; nymphs and adults have eight (like spiders and scorpions – they are related!). There are several colors to ticks, depending on which kind; the colors can include grayish-white, brown, black, reddish-brown, or yellowish.
What do they do?
They are like vampires. They feed off the blood of animals or humans. It’s not like mosquitoes, where they just come along, land on you, bite you, and drink your blood for a moment or so. No. Ticks are there to gorge themselves on blood. In order to bite you, it will (literally) bury its head into your skin.
So? Why should you care?
I will tell you. Ticks are not clean little critters. They carry disease in their tiny little bodies. They are carriers of several. One of the more common ones is Lyme disease.
Wait. Did you just hear me say Lyme disease?
Yes. Yes, you did.
As someone that has known individuals to have Lyme disease, I can tell you that this is no joke.
To put it simple, Lyme disease is an infection that has a variety of stages. There are a variety of symptoms. It can present itself, in the early stages, as flu- like illnesses (fever, chills, sweats, etc.) Those are just the less scary parts. If there is not treatment or if it is inadequately handled, you may develop severe and chronic symptoms. Lyme disease is not limited to one part of the body and can affect any body system.
How can you help prevent tick bites?
Prepare yourself. Ticks live in grassy, bushy, wooded areas, or even on animals. People get ticks in their yard or neighborhood. When I was warning my fellow workers about these critters, one told me about how he found a few near his house. He said that he was just harmlessly walking his pets when he spotted four or five crawling on his pants leg. They are there. If you are going to be out and about, they have products that you can use on your clothing and outdoor gear. There are also approved insect repellants out there.
What can you do when you are done with your outdoor adventures to make sure you don’t have any ticks?
You will want to check your clothing. They can just be chilling on your clothes, and you just carried the unexpected visitor into your home. Throw your clothes through the wash – only use hot water to kill the fiends – or through the hot dryer. Shower promptly to remove any ticks that have yet to bury their heads into your flesh. This opens up the door for the perfect transition to the tick check!
How do I do a tick check?
As an adventurous individual, I must admit that I was not great at checking myself until I was able to employ my partner to help me out. A fellow female hiker that I work with agreed. Any time you go into a potentially tick-infested area (including your own backyard), you will want to do a full body check. If you are by yourself, use mirrors to the best of your ability. You’ll want to check head to toe. Look all around your hair, in and around your ears. Don’t be shy – examine your armpits and your groin region (Anyone remember that episode of House? Safe?) Be awkward – check in your belly button, around your waist, and back of your knees. In addition to checking yourself, check your companions as well. This includes animals, children, or even your backpacks
Oh no! I found one! What do I do?
First off, don’t panic. That never helps anyone or anything. I know it is freaky to find them; I found one once in my cousin’s head as a child when we were doing each other’s hair. It was not a fun night. Now, I am not a medical professional or an expert. But, to get rid of the tick in my cousin’s head, my aunt used tweezers to pull the tick straight out (no twisting) to remove the head and mouthparts. Don’t try to light the tick on fire to scare it out of you because that may cause it to send infected fluids back into the bite. Keep the carcass of the creature to show a medical professional. After you have it out, clean your hands and bite area with warm water and gentle soap. Apply alcohol to help prevent infection. I would strongly recommend seeing a health care provider immediately if you cannot remove the tick. Leave it to the professionals if you do not feel comfortable. Just do not wait to do so. If that is not the case, see a health care provider to get an antibiotic as a precaution to help prevent Lyme Disease, if you develop flu-like symptoms a month after the bite, if there are signs of Lyme Disease (such as a “bullseye” rash in which the rash resembles a bullseye), or if there are signs of infection.
I just want everyone to enjoy their outdoor adventures. These pesky bugs can make life go from simple to miserable in a matter of time. Remember, be aware of your surroundings and check yourself after your trip outside.