Updated: Jan 3
As spring approaches it would behoove us to remember the preparation steps we should take to protect ourselves. I have lived all over the United States and gone camping, or in some cases bivouacking, in many different states but never really paid much attention to insects. As a child, teenager, and then as a younger man I didn't spend much time worrying about my health or the dangers I faced. However, when I moved to North Carolina I learned something terrifying. There is a tick here that has been known to cause its victims to become allergic to red meat. I happen to be a very picky eater. Meat makes up a very large part of my diet and just the thought of becoming allergic to it was shocking, to say the least. Now to be fair the range of this tick called the Lone Star tick because of the single white dot on the back of the adult female, is much wider than just North Carolina. In fact, there have been sightings as far north as New York and as far west as Texas. I simply never heard of it until I moved here 8 years ago.
Sure there are other reasons to be worried about ticks no matter where you live. Lyme disease, STARI, Tularemia, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever are just a few of the possible complications of a tick bite. So we should all be careful when out-doors to try and avoid being bitten by a tick. Removing the tick at soon as possible and paying close attention to the area bitten are also really important steps to take. For more information on the variety of diseases, one can contract from ticks refer to the Center for Disease Control or CDC. Their website is loaded with great information on all of them.
The most common advice for avoiding tick bites is to stick to well-manicured lawns, the center of paths, and avoid tall overgrown areas. That's a bit of a problem for those of us attempting to hunt or forage for wild edibles. It can be an issue for people fishing as well, but it's not as common. Hunting and foraging however will nearly always lead into or through some tall grass, brush, bushes, or other undergrowth which will give the ticks many opportunities to attach themselves. Not to mention if you're hunting and successfully harvest an animal there is a high probability there are ticks on the animal that will naturally start jumping off as it cools after death. So the question then is since we can't avoid them, what do we do.
Here is where we come across the second most common advice for preventing tick bites. Insect repellent. Typical insect repellent with a high concentration of DEET is the most common and works well. You should be fine with this while, hiking, camping, fishing, foraging, or just taking some time to commune with nature. It gets a bit more complicated if you're hunting though. Many of the game animals you may be stalking have very sensitive noses that will detect the scent from commercial bug sprays long before you get close enough to be a threat to them. So what do we do? For me the answer is permethrin.
You can find several good permethrin treatments in most stores that carry bug spray or even hunting, camping, hiking, or fishing supplies. A good odorless permethrin spray can be applied to all of your clothing and equipment days before you plan to head out into the wild. It will also remain effective for at least several weeks and washes before needing to be reapplied. As in all things make sure you follow the directions for use on the container you purchase. It is important to ensure you treat all of the gear you plan to take with you and not just the clothes you will be wearing though. Ticks can hitchhike on anything they come across and follow you home if you aren't careful.
It doesn't hurt to go ahead and tuck your pants into your socks, wear gloves when possible, long-sleeved shirts when possible, and tuck the shirt sleeves into the gloves as well. Before you undress for any reason just give yourself or anyone with you a good inspection to see if any ticks are crawling around. After undressing it should be an automatic reflex to conduct another thorough inspection of any skin that can be seen and inspected. Especially good to keep in mind since a particular holiday is approaching, wink wink nudge nudge.
"Hey baby, I need to check you for ticks!"
Below you can find a link to the CDC website as well as the brand of permethrin I use. You should conduct your own research however to see if there is an alternative you prefer for any reason. Don't forget to wash your hands before ingesting anything as well. It is possible to transfer some of any insect repellent from your clothes or hands onto any food item you come into contact with if you don't. It would also probably be a good idea to discuss your plans with your health care professional in advance to ensure whatever choice you make is healthy for you and any medical issues or medications involved. People are often surprised by how their medications or supplements can affect or be affected by insect repellent.
The bottom line is when enjoying the outdoors be as safe as you can. At some point, however, you will be bitten by some insects, even ticks. The important thing to remember is to remove the tick as soon as you notice it and observe the area carefully for any sign of other symptoms. Take precautions but enjoy all that nature provides!