The Perils of the Great Outdoors
By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations
Atlanta is a giant metropolis, but sitting in the daily commute it’s easy to forget that just outside our borders we’re surrounded by lakes, trees, mountains, and skies clear enough to see the stars. Camping is the perennial summer pastime, and we’re only a couple hours away from respite in the great outdoors. Before you pack up your gear and load family and friends in the car, make sure you’re prepared to confront a common camping pest: ticks.
Ticks are tiny external parasites. Don’t call them insects – they’re actually arachnids, related to spiders and mites. Ticks are hematophagous, surviving on a diet of blood, feeding by attaching themselves to a host, either a mammal, bird, or some reptiles and amphibians. Ticks are able to get a tight grip on their hosts thanks to their cleverly designed mouths and the ingenious properties of their saliva. The barbed mouth of a tick penetrates the skin of the host, while their salivary glands produce a glue-like substance that further strengthens the bond between the minuscule predator and its prey. You’re unlikely to feel a tick bite, as their saliva acts as a local anesthetic. Finally, a tick’s saliva ensures the meal goes on uninterrupted by acting as an anticoagulant.
Most active from April to September, ticks are found in woods, fields, or bushy, brush areas. Be especially vigilant in high grasses or around leaf litter. Avoid a run in with a tick by sporting long sleeves, pants, a hat, and a repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET. In the midst of summer heat, no one will fault you for forgoing the long sleeves and pants, but keep the hat and the DEET. (Ticks are often found on low tree branches and fall onto their prey, so pull out that Braves cap or, better yet a brimmed hat and wear it with pride.) If you’re going hiking in an area where ticks are likely to be found, stick to the middle of the trail and skip the Chacos in favor of hiking boots and socks.
After your adventure, give yourself a thorough, full-body check for ticks. Have a friend or spouse check your scalp to find ticks hiding beneath your hair. Check children, remembering to look around the waistband, around ears, bellybuttons, between legs and behind knees, under arms and of course, their scalp. If you find a tick, remove it as soon as possible. Removal is simple, and all it requires is a good pair of tweezers. Old folk remedies, like painting over the tick with nail polish, covering it with Vaseline, or burning it off, are unnecessary. To remove, grasp the tick with tweezers as close to the surface of skin as possible. Expect resistance (glue-like saliva and barbed mouths, remember?) and pull straight up with steady, even pressure. The goal is to remove all of the tick, including the mouth. If you’re unsuccessful, try to remove the mouth with the tweezers. If you can’t remove the mouth easily, don’t panic. Leave it alone and let the skin heal on its own. After removal, clean your hands and the bite area with soap and water.
80 different kinds of ticks make a home in the United States and three are commonly found in Georgia: the Lone Star Tick, American Dog Tick, and the Black-Legged Tick or Deer Tick. The Lone Star tick is the most common tick in Georgia, and its bite can cause human monocytic ehrlichiosis (HME) and southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI). The American Dog tick is the second-most commonly found tick, and it transmits the bacterium that causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever. It requires attachment for at least four hours to cause illness. Finally, the Black-Legged tick – most of us know it as a Deer tick – carries the bacteria that causes Lyme disease and human granulocytic anaplasmosis (HGA). Luckily, the Deer tick must be attached for 24 hours before it can cause illness. If you’re vigilant about checking yourself, you’re not likely to become ill from a bite.
Not all ticks cause illness, and not every tick bite will make you sick. Remove ticks as soon as possible and stay calm. If you develop an early symptom of a tick-borne disease in the next one to four weeks, however, see a doctor immediately. Symptoms include fever and chills, aches and pains like headaches and joint pain, or a rash. Lyme disease will cause a trademark “target” rash – it looks like a bull’s-eye. For a full list of symptoms and a guide to rashes caused by ticks, please visit the CDC’s website.
Ticks are a part of outdoor adventures – annoying, but easily dealt with. While you’re relaxing around a campfire or hiking the very beginning of the famed Appalachian Trail, you’ll be too immersed in natural freedom to be bothered at the thought of them. Add a good pair of tweezers to your first aid kit and go enjoy nature!