In the great outdoors, ticks are always lurking. You know to keep an eye out for them and to wear long sleeves and pants, but sometimes that just isn’t enough. Soon after hiking and exploring some woods near our home, I found my two-year-old with an active bite while grocery shopping.
We beelined for the health and beauty department where I grabbed tweezers and removed it from her ear. After that incident, I became a lot more vigilant in learning how to avoid ticks while hiking.
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For hikers, the outdoors is a place to get away from it all. However, even in the most peaceful settings, there are dangers to be aware of. One of the biggest threats hikers face is ticks. While they may be small, ticks can carry some serious diseases.
Ticks are found all over the United States and vary by region. Different species are capable of carrying different diseases. This doesn’t mean that every tick of a certain species will carry that disease, but it’s a good idea to stay aware and take precautions regardless.
American Dog Tick
The American dog tick is a species of tick that is found in the United States. It is a brownish color, and can grow up to 1/4 of an inch in size. The American dog tick can carry a number of diseases, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and ehrlichiosis. It is most commonly found in the eastern and central United States.
The blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis), also known as a deer tick, is a hard-bodied tick that is found throughout much of the eastern and central United States. This tick is known to carry several diseases, including Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis.
The blacklegged tick is most commonly found in wooded areas and along the edges of forests. In the Midwest, the population rises rapidly in the fall season as they seek out white tail deer, their favorite host.
Brown Dog Tick
The brown dog tick is found across the United States. This tick can carry diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, and tularemia. Brown dog ticks are most commonly found on dogs, but they also bite humans.
Gulf Coast Tick
The Gulf Coast Tick is a species of tick that is found in the coastal area of the southeast United States and Gulf area. This tick is known to carry Rickettsia parkeri rickettsiosis, a type of spotted fever.
Lone Star Tick
The lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum), named for the single white dot on its back, is another species that can transmit diseases to both humans and animals. This tick is most commonly found in the Southeast, East, and parts of the Midwest. It is responsible for transmitting Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a serious illness that can cause fever, muscle pain, vomiting, and even death.
Rocky Mountain Wood Tick
You’ll find these ticks in and around the Rocky Mountains up to 10,500 feet in elevation. Diseases these ticks can transmit include Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and tularemia.
Western Black Legged Tick
There is a small area of the US where this tick is found. The west coast is where they call home, but northern California is where the highest concentration has been found. They can carry Lyme Disease, but infection rates in adults are very low at around 1%.
How Do Ticks Spread Disease?
Ticks spread disease through the feeding process. First the tick cuts through the skin with its chelicerae (see image below) and inserts it’s feeding tube called a hypostome.
The hypostome is barbed to make it harder to interrupt the ticks meal. On top of the barbs, some species also produce a cement like substance to help them stay attached and an anesthetic so you can’t feel that they’ve attached.
The tick will feed slowly over the course of several days ,and during this time, will ingest any bloodborne pathogen in your blood. This is also the time when small amounts of the tick’s saliva may enter your bloodstream and pass along any nasties the tick is carrying, like Lyme Disease.
After feeding, the tick will drop off and move on to their next life stage, where they can pass along any newly acquired bloodborne pathogens to their next host.
Tick Habitats: Where are ticks found?
Ticks love to be in more places than just the woods. To avoid ticks while hiking, you’ll need to be vigilante at the trail head, shelters, even your own campsite to prevent a bite from these nasty buggers. Aside from on the trail itself, you can find them
- In places where woods meet lawn/grass
- In tall grass/brush
- Near wood piles or rocks where mice or other small animals live
- Under ground-cover plants
- Under leaves or plants
How to Avoid Ticks While Hiking
These prevention tips will help minimize your chances of a tick bite.
- Treat clothing and gear with .5 % permethrin, the CDC’s recommendation, to deter ticks. An awesome option for this is Sawyer Premium Insect Repellent. You can treat hiking gear, tents, clothing, and more.
A study done at the University of Rhode Island showed that by treating your shoes and socks with permethrin, you’re 73 times less likely to get bitten by a tick. The findings of that study can be found in the first paragraph (abstract) of the link.
- Light colored clothing will make it easier to see a tick that has made it way onto you, increasing your chances of removing it before a bite.
- Wear socks long enough to cover your exposed ankles, even better if you tuck your pants into your socks
- Wear long sleeves and pants.
- Walk in the center of the trail to minimize contact with vegetation on the sides of the trail. Ticks will hang out on the ends of vegetation with outstretched legs waiting for a host to walk past (depicted in image below) . Keeping to the center will help keep you out of reach.
- Shower soon after getting home. This will help wash away any unattached ticks and gives you a great opportunity to check your body for attached ticks.
Where to Check for Ticks After Hiking
You already know to check your body for ticks. You should also check your clothing, gear, and footwear.
Be sure to check these areas of your body well
- Under your arms
- In and around your ears
- In your belly button
- Behind your knees
- In your hair
- Between your legs
- Around your waist
SIGNS TO WATCH FOR AFTER A BITE
According to the CDC, the most common symptoms of tick borne illnesses are:
- Muscle Aches and Pain. Possibly joint pain as well.
- A Rash. (In Lyme Disease cases, the rash can take up to 30 days to appear and only occurs in 70-80% of cases.)
Ticks are nasty creatures and can cause concern, but with the proper precautions, they don’t have to be a burden of stress while you enjoy the outdoors.
Knowing how to avoid ticks while hiking can go a long way in preventing tick bites. Remember, use a treatment such as Sawyer’s, cover as much of your body as possible, and check for ticks well after a hike.