Can you hear the collective groan of all outdoor lovers? Yup, it's tick season again. But, thanks to science and some good advice, we will not stay inside and play Fortnite safely on our couches. We will go hiking!
Based on some research I did this year in preparation for Spring, here is how to stay safe from ticks while getting out side.
#1 Use Permethrin
Permethrin is a synthetic version of a compound found in the chrysanthemum flower. This stuff messes with bug's nervous systems and both kills and repels ticks. Yup two-fer! It's different than most repellents as it lasts a long time on your clothing. You can spray/soak your clothing in this stuff and have it last 2 - 3 weeks, including a washing or two! And it works extremely well at keeping you tick free. TIP: Don't forget to treat your shoes! A University of Rhode Island study found that people wearing permethrin-treated sneakers and socks were 73.6 times less likely to have a tick bite than those wearing untreated footwear (source). It's worth noting that, when used properly, Permethrin does seem to be safe for humans and dogs but cats can struggle if exposed to too much of it before it dries. It's also a doozie for bees, fish, amphibians . . . so make sure it has had time to dry before you go tromping around.
#2 Use DEET or Picaridin
Both of these repellants work really well for both ticks and mosquitos. DEET has been around a long time and has (according to the government) been shown to be extremely safe if used per the instructions. Same goes for Picaridin but it hasn't been around quite as long. The upside to Picaridin is that it won't melt plastics like DEET does and it's less greasy and smelly. You can read a nice article from outdoors.org on them here.
#3 Wash and Body Scan
No tick prevention is 100% effective, so when you get back take a shower to try and wash off any ticks that made it home with you. Then make sure to do a full-body scan for the little buggers. Tick nymphs are veracious jerks about the size of a poppy seed . . . so look closely!
#4 Check Your Gear & Pets
Ticks are like a cross between spies and ninjas (very slow ninjas), they can get into anywhere and never make a sound. Don't let the hitchhikers on your clothes, shoes, and pets turn you into a midnight snack. By the way, this is a good reason to consider permethrin. Toss your stuff (not the pets) into the dryer for about 10 minutes on high to give ticks a sauna experience they'll never forget and won't survive.
Remember, it's always possible ticks can shake loose between when you got in the car and when you put stuff in the dryer . . . so keep an eye out.
#5 Carefully Remove Attached Ticks
Soooo . . . steps 1-3 didn't work out? Or maybe you just got lax in your tick defense and skipped them altogether for that quick jog in the woods? And now you have a clinger! According to the CDC, here's the best bet for detaching the tick and sending it to tick hell.
- Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don't twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
- After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
- Dispose of a live tick by submerging it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.
There you have it, now go boldly into those woods and teach those ticks a lesson. See you on the trail!