by Todd Walker
Part of our Self-Reliant Summer series
I first heard the song Ticks by Bard Paisley at a bank drive-thru window. Clever lyrics. Why share such a trivial event? Because I like Brad Paisley’s music and hate ticks… passionately!!
These blood suckers are anything but petty parasites for anyone venturing outdoors. Their genetics seem to steer them to the most delicate and hardest-to-get-at places on the human body. Like zombies looking for a blood meal, they sink their barbed jaws in your skin and gorge.
For me, I’d rather roll naked in poison ivy than have a tick bite. Once removed, they leave itchy, nagging bite marks for months. However, applying my plantain spit poultice immediately and repeatedly for a few days causes the bite symptoms disappear.
The War on Ticks
We’re in the middle of peak tick season (May – June – July). That’s why I love dirt time in the winter – little to no ticks! My personal war on ticks involves prevention and early treatment.
Is your skin crawling yet? No need to panic over these blood-bloated pests.
Take a Deep Breath
Just don’t exhale. Breathing sets off the tick honing device. You see, ticks are attracted to you and me, all mammals in fact, because we spew carbon dioxide with each breath.
Check out this creepy field experiment at North American Hunter. Calvin and Grant placed a one pound container of dry ice in a deer bedding area. In less than 8 hours, they harvested over 600 of these blood suckers! One more than the mark of the beast. There’s a the correlation here I think!!
An Ounce of Tick Prevention
If only there were a way to experience bug-free dirt time. There isn’t. Biting insects are part of the outdoor experience. But you can decrease their damage by following these tips.
As Ben Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Proactive parasite prevention will help you get out there without constantly worrying about tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
There are hundreds of species of ticks in the world but only a few are of concern to you. Blacklegged tick, Wood (Dog) tick, and Lone Star tick are the 3 arachnids on top of the tick-born disease list.
I hate them all but here’s the top woodland offender in my neck of the woods…
Blacklegged Tick (Deer tick)
This is the only tick in the Eastern woodlands with 8 black or dark chocolate-colored legs. Beware of this little devil. Not all deer ticks are carriers of Lyme disease but some are. That’s reason enough to make you cringe, right? Baby deer ticks (nymphs) become infected with Lyme disease by feeding on certain rodents. Early spring and summer are the times they are likely to be found feeding on you and passing on bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi which causes Lyme disease.
The good news is that Lyme disease isn’t transferred until about 24-36 hours of an infected tick having a blood meal on you. Early detection and removal is the key. Be a real friend and do what Brad Paisley suggests, “I’d like to check you for ticks”… every 2-3 hours while in tick country.
Common Sense Tick Deterrents
- Light colored clothing makes spotting these critters easier
- Long pants tucked into boots or socks
- Walk in the center of wooded paths when possible to avoid brushing against undergrowth where ticks hitchhike for a ride – and no, ticks don’t fly or pole vault from overhead trees limbs
- Tuck long sleeve shirts into pants
- Cover your head with a hat, bandana, or buff
- Apply insect repellant to all clothing and exposed skin
It is recommended by the CDC and other government health organizations to apply repellent containing 10-30% DEET. That alone is the reason I do NOT apply DEET to my skin. Call me skeptical or even a tin foil hatter but I’ve seen the damage done in the name of public health in more areas than pest control.
Natural Tick Repellents
One of the tenants of our Doing the Stuff Network is to trade theory for action. Will natural (non-DEET) insect repellents really prevent you from becoming a tick’s next blood meal?
I haven’t tried all these recipes. If you’ve found/created an effective natural concoction, please share in the comments. The war on ticks needs you!
Here are a few DiY recipes to consider.
- Healthy Household: Bug Away Spray - Doing the Stuff Trusted Resource
- Natural Tick Repellents That Worked!
- 20+ Natural Insect Repellent Recipes for a Bug-Free Summer - Doing the Stuff Trusted Resource
- Easy, Natural Tick Repellent That Really Works (Rose Geranium Oil works on dogs too)
These recipes all contain some form of essential oil. Cat nip has been studied and found to be as effective as DEET. Warning – do NOT use essential oils during pregnancy – animal or human. Other effective essential oils for ticks are:
- Tea tree
- Pennyroyal – do your own research before using this one
- Sweet myrrh
Tick Check and Removal
I’ve done my fair share of this unpleasant practice. As the lyrics say, “You never know where one might be.” Ticks seem to migrate to tender, gentler areas of my body.
Check for ticks thoroughly while showering. Bathing removes crawlers. Once attached, no amount of soap and water will wash them off. For those hard to reach places, have a really close friend or partner look you over. Of course, they’ll need to rub that freckle and occasional mole to confirm their tick suspicions. ;)
See, another argument against being a lone wolf!
If it’s too late and a blood meal is in progress, break up the dinner party. There’s a right and wrong way to remove ticks. No disrespect meant to any folklore methods passed down from grand pappy but these may cause more harm than good.
Your goal is to remove the tick without causing it to vomit supper back on its dinner plate – your skin! Pardon the disgusting description. Grabbing the tiny tick with your club-like finger is likely to hurl its bodily fluids back into you. Confession time. I’ve removed ticks with my fingers when that’s the only tools I’ve had available. Just be as gentle as possible.
Other Wrong Methods
- Hot match applied to an embedded tick
- Paint with nail polish
- Smother with petroleum jelly
The Correct Way
Flip the attached tick in a handstand position. Use tweezers or forceps to grab the little menace close to your skin. Pull straight up and out with steady pressure. Twisting or jerking will likely leave barbed mouthparts in your skin. Companies sell tick tools specifically designed to remove ticks safely. I’ve never used one but would be happy to hear your experience.
Now you can go all destroyer mode. In a wilderness setting, drop the tick in your camp fire to return it to its rightful place – HELL! Crush it between two rocks and burn the rocks to destroy any potential gooey pathogens. At home, simply flush the tick down the toilet. It’s also a good idea to sterilize the tweezers via heat or alcohol.
Wash the bitten area and your hands with soap and water or antiseptic ASAP. Check the tick to see if it lost its head in tug-o-war battle. If so, apply a plantain poultice to help draw the nasty stuff out of the bite indention.
Bushcraft Tick Tools
Carry these tools to add redundancy to you kit…
- Swiss Army Knife – the tweezers are for more than plucking your unibrow
- Compass – use the sighting mirror to inspect your nether region
- Magnifying Glass – make fire on sunny days and get a visual on the smaller embedded ticks
Symptoms of Lyme Disease
Within 3 to 30 days after being bitten, the first sign of Lyme disease is a reddish bull’s-eye about 2 inches in diameter at the bite location. If detected in the early stage, Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics for a quick recovery. Later stages respond to antibiotics but may take months or years to cure.
Any itchy rashes or reactions after being bitten is a sign to seek medical attention. An extra precaution would be to preserve the tick in a small vial of alcohol or taped to a white piece of paper for identification purposes if complications arise. I’ve never been a tick saver. I burn ‘em!
My hatred for ticks can not be overstated! At the same time, I love being outdoors. So my war on these blood suckers continues with the lyrics of Ticks swirling in my head.
What’s your best tick tips on prevention and treatment?
Keep Doing the Stuff,
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