I came out of the path that leads from Spencer Lake to the parking area, when a boy who was standing there asked his mother why I had my boots tucked into my pants. She told him it was to keep them dry in the wet grass. I leaned over and told him, “Actually, it’s to prevent Ticks from grabbing onto my legs. They’re a kind of bug that can make you sick.” The lad looked at his mother wide-eyed as if to ask if this could possibly be true. Calmly she reassured him, “They don’t grab your legs, they jump out of trees onto your head. But you’re wearing a hat so you’re OK.” Then she gave me a look of disgust as if I’m trying to give her kid nightmares, and proceeded to load him into the mini-van.
I was left standing there in the parking lot with my jaw dropped, wondering how many people don’t know how dangerous tick-borne disease really is, and how easy it is to get ticks. Forgive me for being a downer this week, but if you’re going to be in the outdoors, you’re going to be exposed to ticks, so you need to know a few things about them to keep yourself healthy.
First off, the risk is serious. Tens of thousands of Americans are infected by tick-borne diseases each year. Although seldom fatal, the recovery period is usually months-long and it’s no picnic. You can get a tick on you just by walking through your back yard. That’s the bad news. The good news is it’s easy to prevent and if you’ll read the rest of the page, I’ll tell you how.
There are three ticks causing trouble in Ohio; the Lone Star Tick, Dog Ticks, and Black-legged (or Deer) Ticks. Depending on where you’re walking (in grass or in the woods) determines which one you may be exposed to, but the methods for protecting yourself are the same.
It’s a common mis-perception that ticks drop out of trees. Ticks jump on your legs and work their way up, so people sometimes find them in their scalp. Usually ticks will attach right away and dig their little heads under your skin near your ankles or lower legs. So, cover up! Always wear long pants in the field or woods, and “blouse” your pants into the top of your boots. You don’t wear boots? Tuck your pants into your socks! You wear sandals and shorts? Then you’d better pay close attention to the next paragraph, and make sure your health insurance is current!
If you do get a tick on you, don’t panic, I’ve had a couple on me over the years and I’m still here. That being said, you do have to get them off you and there’s a right way, and many wrong ways, to do it. Forget all the folk methods you’ve heard from your grandpa and some urban-legend-spreading-email that says you can apply vinegar, or a hot match, nail polish or rubbing alcohol, or just plain ripping it out in pieces. Basically, the folk methods don’t work and can cause the tick to secrete its saliva under your skin, and that’s exactly what you are trying to prevent from happening.
What you need to do to remove a tick (sooner is better than later) is grab the tick with a pair of tweezers as close to the skin as possible and pull it out with steady, even pressure. Now that you have it out, don’t throw it in the commode, save it! Put it in an air-tight container like an old pill bottle or a film canister, Tupperware or a mason jar. If you should develop symptoms, don’t go jumping to conclusions. After all, you might be one of the lucky ones and it’s just Poison Ivy!
Look for symptoms of three tick-borne diseases: Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (look for a spotted rash on your extremities), and Lyme Disease (look for a bulls-eye rash) and Ehrlichiosis, (a bacterial disease with symptoms similar to Lyme disease but may or may not result in a rash at all). Often victims of tick-borne disease are unaware that they’ve even been bitten by a tick, and the first sign of anything being wrong is the onset of headaches, tiredness, and fever or flu-like symptoms. See a doctor, you’re not going to beat this stuff alone.
One last thing you can do to help prevent tick bites is the obvious, wear bug repellent. There’s a lot of debate over which one is best; I use Deet but any bug spray is better than none.
I don’t tell you these things to scare you away from enjoying the outdoors, I’m in the field almost every day! But it’s just like telling you to douse your campfire or wear a life jacket; some things we have to do to be safe. Now, blouse your pants and GET OUTDOORS!