What is your tick IQ?
Steaming Katsu Curry from a sushi “grill” was the mechanism by which I made my full immersion into the world of ticks.
It has been a week of plucking the wee beasties from my two dogs as I finish packing for my Pinhoti Trail thru-hike, and this with preventative medications applied.
Hanging like individual grapes after burrowing and cementing their jaws into my dog’s flesh, the ticks emit a hideous popping sound when pried from their feast. Much like stepping on a Washington-sized slug, barefoot.
I am not a fan.
To reward my parasite plucking bravery, I ordered out for dinner, which was a mistake. The Katsu Curry I ordered contained morsels the size and color of the engorged ticks I had been murdering all week.
When even your food resembles sickly maggot-colored ticks, you realize you’ve been through something. And, the thought of having to pluck them from myself whilst on trail this year has me wondering how I can avoid them altogether.
Ticks and disease
I soon learned that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did.
Ticks don’t just suck on animals, they also like people, particularly outdoorsy people who sleep in the dirt and hike on long trails. People like us, so there are a few things we should remember if we’re spending months in the hills.
First off, the reported cases of Lyme disease in humans have tripled since the 90s. I also discovered that to date there are 16 known tick-borne illnesses in the United States. These are transmitted as bacteria, as a virus, or even (brace yourselves) as parasites.
Yes, a parasite can give you parasites. Sort of like having a significant other who brings home more than flowers.
Some of these diseases even have names that sound rather benign and put dreamy images in my head.
- “Borrelia miyamotoi” – A Japanese polar explorer.
- “Babesiosis” – An attractive individual that causes one to drool lustfully.
- “Bourbon virus” – Yes, please. Hold the ice.
Ticks and Lyme disease go hand in hand. This I knew, and somewhere in the deeper recesses of my grey matter I was cognizant there were more, but 16?
New species of these arachnids and new tick-borne pathogens are being discovered all the time, with six of the diseases they transmit only discovered in the last two decades.
Reasons for these new discoveries vary, and I’m certain it involves a fair bit of sciencey stuff like “Oh eewww! Is this a tick?” and Petri dishes, but the results are the same.
People who get sucked on by ticks stand a fair chance of getting sick if they don’t take steps to prevent getting bitten or removing them promptly and correctly.
So now what? Well, for starters…..
Don’t eat ticks. Avoid them.
This point should be obvious. They won’t taste good. Even animals that attract them won’t eat them, except for birds, rodents, and opossums, because their standards of “edible” are low, so finding enough for yourself to eat would be silly. Besides, they’ll find you.
Being serious now.
As foraging for ticks is for the birds, how does one avoid the ticks foraging for them? There has to be a way, right? Lucky for us, there is.
To avoid ticks, stay inside. Ticks have a hell of a time opening doors. For those who need to venture out, there are also easy preventative measures.
- Wear long pants and sleeves. Ticks grab hold as you walk by.
- Douse all your gear in permethrin once a month/ after washing.
- Use standard bug spray with Deet. This also repels mosquitoes.
- If you’re into a natural approach, try citrus, mint, or lemongrass oils, and tweezers.
- Avoid long grass, weeds, and greenery you could brush up against.
- Befriend an opossum
You should also understand where you are more likely to pick up a few ticks.
THE 10 STATES WITH THE MOST TICK-BORN DISEASES, & THUS TICKS
Between 2004-2016. State & number of cases. (2021 = the stats are still representative.)
- 10. New Hampshire: 13,710 cases
- 9. Virginia: 16,454
- 8. Maryland: 22,166
- 7. Minnesota: 26,886
- 6. Wisconsin: 33,255
- 5. Connecticut: 36,727
- 4. Massachusetts: 50,234
- 3. New Jersey: 51,578
- 2. New York: 69,313
- 1. Pennsylvania: 73,610
For those who do better with visuals than lines of data, I have put together a thru-hiker-specific map that breaks it down to the basics.
So what happens if you take every precaution yet ticks still find you attractive; should you invest in a lubricant?
Unless you have a very personal need for lube, no. Despite some opinions, lube/grease/soap/gasoline is not kryptonite for ticks. Keep reading.
Correct tick removal does not involve fire or lube.
Even swimming in permethrin and avoiding Pennsylvania doesn’t guarantee you won’t wake up one morning to find your hairy moist regions colonized by a bevy of blood-sucking pathogen spreaders.
Thankfully removing them is even easier than injecting bleach and sunlight to make them magically go away. All you need are fingernails, though if you’re at all like me and cringe at the thought of having to touch them with your fingers, you can use tweezers or a tick key.
It is ill-advised to suffocate them with lubricant or gasoline or light them up like little roman candles.
And for heaven’s sake, don’t douse them with gasoline and then take a match to them.
The key to tick removal is to remove them as soon as possible. Time is of the essence. Waiting for a tick to let go because of an aversion to petroleum jelly is like hanging out in an Ebola ward for as long as you can hold your breath.
Extreme? Maybe, but it gets the point across, which is
Get. The. Tick. Off. ASAP.
I have witnessed many tick removals. The successful ones don’t involve scorched skin or patience. Physically removing them has yet to fail….
If you need a more professional opinion on ticks, their diseases, and how they recommend you remove them, the CDC has easy-to-follow guidelines. You can find them HERE.
I hope this has been of some value, so good luck and happy hiking!
Has a tick ever bitten you? What method of removal did you use? If you have ever gotten sick from a tick bite, or just have a gross tick-related story to tell, let us know! (Keep it clean, y’all)
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