Lyme Disease and Tick Prevention

With spring turkey season already here and nicer weather means sportsmen and women spending more time in the outdoors, increases your chance at being bitten by the creepy crawly little critter called the tick. As the temperatures increase so does the tick activity. More ticks mean an increased chance of contracting Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. 

To first understand how to avoid a tick bite and tick prevention we must first understand about ticks and tick activity throughout the year.

The tick that carries Lyme disease is black legged tick, Ixodes scapularis or commonly called the deer tick.  There are three stages in a tick’s life, the larva, nymph, and the adult. Majority of Lyme disease cases are transmitted from the bite of a tick in the nymphal stage. When the tick is in the nymphal stage it is often the size of a pin head. Because they are so small in this stage, being able to feel them crawling on you is often difficult and also ticks in the nymphal stage are usually more active in temperatures cooler than when the adult tick are most active. This means that at cooler temperatures, when you are most likely to be turkey hunting in the spring means that your odds of getting the small nymphal stage tick is best during spring turkey hunting. The adult tick is most active during the warmer temperatures in the spring and through fall. The adult stage in the tick’s life makes them much easier to spot and feel crawling on you.

Unlike what most people believe, ticks cannot jump, fly or fall from above onto you. They do however grab hold of you as you walk by or brush up against tall grass or leaves. Most ticks attach to your lower extremities and work their way up.  Ticks have the tendency to continue crawling generally up until they reach a location that they cannot crawl anymore such as your head or a tight location such as waist bands, sock cuffs, or under arms.

Grassy fields and pine plantations are prime areas for ticks

An interesting fact about ticks is that if a tick that carries Lyme disease bites you there is no risk of disease transmission during the first 24 hours.  Basically the key to prevent contracting Lyme disease is early tick removal. One study showed that if the tick is in you for more than 48 hours the transmission rate of contracting Lyme disease increased to 12.5%, and at 72 hours it is increased to 75%.

 This study shows that to prevent Lyme disease, is to locate the imbedded tick in less than 24 hours. This relates to the hunter and outdoorsman by setting the stage for the importance of tick inspections after every outing in the outdoors. One way of establishing the length of which the tick was imbedded is by looking at its legs. Ticks are harder to remove once their legs are curled under their body while attached to its host’s skin. This often occurs over a longer period of time. If the legs are still spayed out, removal is much easier. There are many tales of secrets to tick removal. Most have been proven not to work or even increase the risk of Lyme disease transmission. Do not smother ticks in gas or Vasoline, and do not kill the tick with a hot match trying to get the tick to back out. To remove an embedded tick simply take a small thin tweezers and grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible. Gently pull the tick strait up away from your skin. Once you remove the tick, check to see if the tick’s mouth parts are attached, you will often see a small piece of white, this is part of your skin if the mouth parts are attached. If the mouth parts are not attached, don’t fear because they will not affect the transmission of contracting Lyme disease. Simply disinfect the area and save the tick for identification and to be presented to a doctor if medical attention required. Then monitor the bite location for any infection. It is also a good idea to be checked several times a year by a doctor for Lyme disease. If Lyme disease is found in the early stages, it can be treated and cured.

 To avoid ticks in the woods, you want the ticks to avoid you. Studies have shown that DEET is not the best tick repellant available. DEET works great for repelling mosquitos and flies, however has little effect on ticks. One study showed that ticks would crawl over a shoe that was soaked in DEET. Ticks may not attach to your skin that is treated with DEET, however would crawl over the treated area until it reaches a location that is not treated.   The best tick repellant on the market is not DEET but Permithrin. Permithrin is actually not a repellant but an insecticide. When a tick comes in contact with Permithrin it is killed a short time later. Most sprays or Permithrin treatments on the market are for cloths only. Permithrin is designed to attach to the fibers of clothing and will remain affective for several weeks even after washing. Permithrin is virtually nontoxic to humans. Permithrin is not designed to be used on skin because it will not bond to skin like it does to fabric and also is deactivated by our skin. Tests show that Permithrin is a 100% affective on ticks versus DEET being only 85% to 89% affective. Basically Permithrin is the repellant of choice when hitting the woods this spring for deterring ticks from you.

 Another product on the market for tick repellant is specialized clothing designed to repel ticks. The most popular is a brand of clothing called ElimiTick, designed by Game Hide. This clothing is embedded with a tick repellent that is man-made version of the repellant found in chrysanthemums and can be washed without losing the garments effectiveness at repelling ticks. A good friend of mine bought a pair of ElimiTick pants last year. We were sitting in a ground blind last spring when I picked up a tick that was crawling on me and placed it on his pants to watch the tick’s reaction. I placed the tick at the bottom of his pants, and by the time it reached just below his knee it curled up and fell off. The pants actually killed the tick. Jeremy did not have a single tick on him last spring while wearing these pants by GameHide, needless to say he now has the whole outfit this spring.

 Another great tick tactic is to tuck in every article of clothing you can. If wearing long underwear, tuck them into your socks, tuck your shirt into your waist band, and tuck your pant legs into your boots. Snake boots also serve great tick protection for the hunters who don’t hunt in snake country. They cover high up your leg and lace tight to keep tick from crawling up your pant legs. If you don’t wear snake boots, you may want to consider taping the tops of your hunting boots with camouflage tape to keep ticks from crawling up. And also wearing tight fitting elastic cuffs on your shirt sleeves also help to prevent ticks from crawling in under your cloths.  Once out of the field, store you’re hunting cloths in a plastic bag, tote, or hang them outside. Do not bring cloth into your house that are not properly stored; ticks can crawl off your cloths and into your house.

 To stay safe this spring from Lyme disease and ticks requires a tick prevention system. It starts first with treating all your hunting cloths with Permithrin. Next tuck in all pant legs, sock cuffs, shirt cuffs, and waist lines. Lastly check your self often; a good rule of thumb is to perform a detailed systematic search of yourself for ticks every time you come in from hunting. Early detection and tick prevention is the most important key to keeping you and your family safe from disease carrying ticks this spring.

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