With summer comes an abundance of outdoor activities—sports, hiking, playgrounds, and more! However, with all that fun also comes a high risk of ticks and the ferocious diseases they often carry. They may seem small, but ticks definitely are a cause for concern, especially this season.
Felicia Keesing from Bard College in New York has warned that there will likely be more ticks this season, with an increase in human risk for contracting tick-borne diseases. Surprisingly, this outbreak stems from an abundance of acorns two years ago, which led to a population boost of white-footed mice—a favorite feast of ticks. Additionally, shorter winters and warmer temperatures contribute to a rise in human exposure to ticks.
A first reaction may be to bubble wrap your kids and hide them inside to protect them from the danger of ticks, but that’s not realistic and would make for a pretty boring summer! The best way to protect your kids is to educate yourself, to proactively protect your kids, and to be observant.
Educate Yourself: Some Facts About Ticks
- Ticks are not born with diseases. They contract them from feeding off of hosts.
- Ticks do not fly. They clasp on to their desired hosts through a process called questing.
- There are thousands of species of ticks, but only a few types are cause for alarm.
- Lyme disease, caused by deer ticks, takes a minimum of 36 to 48 hours for the tick to transmit to its host.
- Of the average 300,000 confirmed cases of Lyme disease each year, twenty-five percent are children.
- Lyme disease is not the only concern—beware the Powassan Virus and many other tick-borne diseases (even one that causes a meat allergy).
- You can see tick activity in your state using this interactive map of the United States.
Proactively Protect: Tips to Avoid Tick Bites
- Avoid tall grasses, leaf litter, and bushes.
- When in the woods, stick to the center of trails to avoid low hanging branches and shrubbery.
- Know that ticks can be anywhere, though, so always be on guard when outdoors.
- Regularly inspect pets for their own safety as well as to keep ticks from being carried into your home.
- After spending time outdoors, dry clothing in high heat.
- Use tick deterrents such as DEET, permethrin, and essential oils like lavender and eucalyptus. Always supervise children when applying.
- Cover as much skin as possible when outdoors. Tuck pants into socks and tuck shirts into pants. Wear hats with hair pulled up. With all this clothing on, though, be careful to avoid heat exhaustion.
Observe: Check for Ticks and Watch for Symptoms
- Shower immediately after coming in from outdoors and search all over everyone’s body. Pay special attention to scalps and more hidden areas like ears, armpits, and belly buttons.
- After an extended time outdoors or in high-risk areas, it may be beneficial to do all-over body checks for a couple days after to ensure the tick was not overlooked. Ticks are tiny and often easily missed.
- If a tick is found, it must be immediately removed. Using tweezers or a tick removal tool, slowly remove the tick applying even pressure and without jerking or twisting. The goal is to remove the tick without breaking it off or causing it to inject its fluid into your bloodstream.
- Do NOT use fire, essential oils, or other wives tales to remove the tick. These run a high risk of causing the tick to react and introduce diseases into your body through its saliva and vomit.
- Once the tick is removed, seal it tightly in a container in case you need to identify it and have it tested for disease at a later time.
- Wash your hands and clean the bite with alcohol or other antiseptic.
- Once the tick is removed, be mindful to watch for any unusual behaviors or symptoms. Initial symptoms of Lyme disease include rashes (the infamous bulls-eye rash), joint pain, fatigue, and other flu-like symptoms. Other tick-borne illnesses present with similar symptoms.
- Always err on the side of safety and visit your doctor if any suspicious symptoms present. When setting up the appointment, remember to ask your doctor’s office if they would like to have the tick to send away for testing.
It is imperative that you and your kids play it safe this summer when it comes to the dangers of ticks. However, do not let the fear of ticks ruin your fun! Go exploring, run and play—just be intentional with prevention and observant of bites and symptoms!