A tick’s an exo-parasite. That means it attaches to an organism to feed and survive. Ticks are everywhere and depending on the tick species there are multiple nymph stages for a tick to reach full maturity.
In order for a male or female tick to continue to grow and move forward in their life they must attach to a host, consume a blood meal, and then detach to grow into their next form.
Unfortunately, we can end up being such a blood meal as a tick attaches to our skin painlessly to feed.
Combating Lyme disease is mostly about removing a tick as quickly as possible, so you’ll need to stay vigilant and check your body twice per day for ticks while hiking.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention lists seven kinds of ticks in the United States, some are regional and others encompass the entire country.
There’s the western blacklegged tick, the American dog tick, the normal blacklegged tick, the brown dog tick, the gulf coast tick, the lone star tick, and the rocky mountain wood tick.
Contrary to popular belief though ticks are not exclusive to either deer, or dogs if they have that it in their name. Ticks can latch onto a multitude of creatures including; rodents, birds, humans, or other small critters.
In the younger stages of a tick’s life they’ll search for smaller hosts to consume from such as rodents, or birds since they’re the more accessible for nutrients. When they reach maturity a tick is looking for larger hosts such as dogs, deer or humans.
How does a tick reach its host? A common misconception is that a tick will jump from a branch onto you. Ticks don’t jump to reach their host.
Instead, they climb up a branch or a blade of grass, and when the tick reaches the top it will spread its front legs out waiting for an animal to pass by.
The way that a tick detects its potential host is by using what’s called a Haller’s Organ. The Haller’s organ is located in its front legs and these organs allow the tick to feel different molecules in the air such as water, or carbon dioxide, and detect changes in temperature. This gives them the ability to detect a living organism approaching them.
When someone like an unsuspecting hiker’s approaching, and the hiker brushes up against a blade of grass or a tree branch, the tick will climb aboard and try to find a place to attach on the skin. It craves to drink the hiker’s delicious bloody nutrients. (Gross.)
As the tick is feasting on the flesh of its victim it transmits its diseases over time. Generally diseases such as Lyme aren’t transferred immediately unless you remove the tick improperly by squeezing the belly, so let’s get into the different symptoms associated with tick bites and then how to remove a tick the correct way.
Tick Borne Diseases and Symptoms in Humans
Ticks carry tons of bacteria, viruses, and protozoa. There’s a variety of pathogens that can bring about a ridiculous amount of afflictions. You’re not just susceptible to Borreliosis (bo-rel-e-o-sis), also known as Lyme Disease, you can be infected by many other harmful diseases and disorders.
One viral disease known as the Colorado Tick Fever, is described by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as common in wood ticks in the United States and Canada. The disease can cause you to feel extremely tired, make your body ache all over, give you a severe headache or the chills, and cause a potentially life threatening fever.
The Q Fever is another separate infection brought on by tick bites, and as reported by the Mayo Clinic, can range from having almost no symptoms at all, to having a high fever, a severe headache, immense fatigue, the chills, coughing, vomiting, diarrhea, and a severe sensitivity to light.
Australian ticks are particularly potent in that they have a venom which can cause a type of permanent paralysis. This isn’t found in other ticks around the world, but there’s a scientific article about the disease here that you may want to read if you’re planning on hiking in Australia.
When it comes to the most common and major diseases though they are Lyme Disease, and Tick-borne Encephalitis.
Information About Lyme Disease and Tick-Borne Encephalitis
Lyme disease is a potentially life threatening bacterial disease that cannot be combated by any vaccination. You can be treated for it once you’ve been infected by taking very large dosages of antibiotics, but there is absolutely no guarantee that it will be successful.
The number of symptoms that are associated with Lyme disease are very long. The disease can affect your skin, nervous system, heart, joints and your mental state.
If you’d like, you can follow this link to read about the majority of the symptoms, but we’ll also summarize and expand here on the symptoms and signs below.
Starting with the skin, at the site of the wound where the tick was drawing blood, a solid red or pink rash can form. Typically the rash starts small and can expand to over two inches in size. Only about 10-20% of rashes form the classic bullseye pattern that people are familiar with.
In 20-30% of Lyme disease cases, there isn’t a rash that forms at all. While in other cases, a rash will expand and cover an entire limb or the entire back of a bitten individual, causing irritation.
So, when it comes to skin conditions from tick bites there’s a lot of variation and they aren’t necessarily a great indication of Lyme disease.
Neurological issues are another concern that’s associated with Lyme disease and the affliction can affect the nervous system and include following:
Meningitis: An inflammation of the lining surrounding the brain and spinal cord which can cause confusion, nausea, headache, fever, an increased sensitivity to light, vomiting, a stiff neck and more.
Tick-Borne Encephalitis: An inflammation and swelling of the brain which can result in mental confusion and seizures, headaches, mild flu-like symptoms, neck stiffness, personality changes, and more. In severe cases, encephalitis can cause weakness or partial paralysis in the arms and legs, double vision, impairment of speech or hearing, or even a comatose state.
Cranial Neuritis: A disorder of nerve damage which can cause the deadening of facial nerves that cause one side of the face or eyelid to droop, double vision, and other problems with eyesight.
Radiculoneuritis: An inflammation of the roots of the spinal nerve which can cause numbness and tingling, or sharp, stabbing, burning or shooting pain that radiates or spreads along the body.
The neurological issues associated with Lyme disease and tick bites are particularly nasty and they’re the primary reason that you’ll want to watch out for ticks.
Another potential area of symptoms are the joints. According to Columbia University, “joint swelling occurs in approximately 60 percent of patients who do not get treated for Lyme disease following infection. While most often the joint swelling occurs about 6 months after the initial infection, the range of onset after infection is wide, ranging from 4 days to 2 years.”
Finally, Columbia University states that Neuropsychiatric or Neurocognitive symptoms are also a potential part of Lyme disease. Patients have been known to have troubles with mood stability, cognitive ability, energy levels, sensory processing, and sleep disturbances. Also, patients often describe being very tired even after sleeping for 10-12 hours.
Statistics and The Good News About Lyme Disease
We know that reading about all of those symptoms can be scary, and they may make you weary, and it should. Lyme disease really is something to take very seriously, but there is good news.
It’s estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that approximately 300,000 people may get Lyme disease each year in the United States. That’s roughly 0.092% of the population of the country, and those people that were infected, only three have died.
Dr. Charles Chiu, an expert of infectious diseases that works at the University of California’s Division of Infectious Diseases in Los Angeles, says that there are about 80 to 100 cases of Lyme disease in California alone, and anywhere from 2-15 percent of black-legged ticks carry the disease depending on the geographic location and season.
Black-legged ticks have been found in 56 of 58 counties in California, and they’re most common in the Sierra Nevada range of California. This means that if you’re hiking the Pacific Continental Trail (PCT), you’ll have a high chance of encountering ticks, but don’t worry.
Dr. Chiu goes on further to state that, “a tick typically needs to be on you, basically sucking your blood and attached to you for 36 to 48 hours, during which the Borrelia burgdorferi migrates from the tick gut to its salivary glands, before it can transmit the Lyme pathogen.”
The fact that it takes so long for Lyme disease to transmit is really good news because it’s so simple to do a tick check a couple times per day.
Typically at lunch time, when you’re already taking off your shoes and socks to dry out your feet and prevent trench foot is a good time to remove your clothes and examine your body for ticks. If you have a friend with you, have them check your back.
There are too many tick species to talk about each and every one of them, where they’re located, and exactly which diseases they carry, if you’d like to see that information you can click here.
What we also think you’ll find interesting is this geographical map that shows the distribution of Lyme disease across the United States.
By looking at that map you can clearly see that the northeastern part of the country, a major part of the Appalachian Trail, is coated in tick reportings. Ten of the major states that the Appalachian Trail runs through have an enormous amount of tick reportings and include: Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
So, when you’re heading into those sections, pay even more particular attention to your body, and always be diligent. An easy way to prevent ticks is to wear long sweatpants and tuck them into your boots or shoes. We definitely wouldn’t suggest wearing shorts through this section of the hike.
How to Prevent Tick Bites and Avoid Ticks While Hiking
Whether you’re going all natural, or you’re using chemicals you need to have a plan to prevent tick bites while hiking.
Chemical deterrents are very effective at preventing mosquitoes or ticks from crawling on your skin, but they can also be harmful to your health.
Going all natural includes tucking in your long pant legs into your shoes and walking in the middle of the trail away from tall grass or small saplings. The all natural methods of prevention should be used by everyone, even if they’re using a chemical deterrent, to prevent tick bites.
When it comes to a chemical deterrent though, picaridin lotion is one of your best choice for protecting your skin from ticks. To learn more about Picaridin you can click this link to read a fact sheet produced by the National Pesticide Information Center.
Also, some people spray a DEET bug spray all over their skin to protect themselves from ticks and mosquitoes. Some people have had negative reactions to doing this and it can cause a rash to break out on your skin. To learn more about DEET you can click this link to read a fact sheet produced by the National Pesticide Information Center.
The less physically intrusive method of protecting yourself with chemicals is to coat your clothes in a Picaridin spray and let them soak overnight. Once the spray dries out you can put the clothes back on and they’ll deflect mosquitoes, ticks and other irritating insects.
There’s also a more harsh chemical that you can treat your clothes with called Permethrin, which will do a really good job at deflecting ticks. If you’re looking for a high quality Permethrin spray you can find it at the following link.
Chemical sprays are best worn on your outer layer of your clothes to prevent direct contact with your skin.
How to Remove a Tick and Identify Tick Bites
As you read before from Dr. Chiu’s interview, removing a tick quickly is essential, but it’s not dire that it happens immediately when the tick bites since Lyme disease doesn’t transfer right away. There’s a specific way to remove a tick that keeps it from breaking off in your skin that you need to know.
If you look at the main picture of this article at the top you’ll see a section of the tick’s head at the very front of that has tiny spikes coming out.
These barbed spikes are designed to keep the tick inside your body and resist pulling forces. The way these are designed means that if you grasp a tick by its belly and pull, the head will remain. So, the proper way to remove a tick is to take a pair of tweezers and grasp the tick just below its head at the top of the barbed section near its face.
You absolutely do not want to remove a tick from the middle of its body since that will also put pressure on its gut bacteria and cause it to squeeze diseases into your body as you up pressure on it. Also, if the tick’s head breaks off you’ll have to seek medical attention to have it properly removed without grinding it into your skin.
Since ticks are so small, you’re going to want a pair of very fine tipped tweezers. People have been known to use matches, and other strange methods of removal, don’t do them.
When you need to identify a tick bite it’s is really simple since you can see the tick in the center of the bite site. If you notice any of the skin rashes listed above in the Tick Borne Diseases and Symptoms in Humans section and seek medical attention.
Please be very careful and take your time removing a tick. You don’t want to mess up the extraction and have to take a zero mile day going to the doctor, and potentially ruin your good health.
As you can see ticks are a dangerous foe when out in the forest. You’re going to need to stay diligent with your pair of tweezers and picaridin lotion or spray and defend yourself. Make sure that you tuck your pant legs in, or if you’re very concerned coat the skin on your legs with an insect repellent.
Since ticks can cause so many illnesses we want to know everything these is about ticks. Please look after your skin at least twice per day during tick checks and help out your friends as well.
If there’s anything that we misses in regards to ticks such as the disease they carry, how to prevent them, or how to take care of a tick bite, please leave a message below with any comments, questions, suggestions or concerns.
As always, thank so much for being here, may the trails treat you well and have a wonderful day!