Lyme Disease is no longer a Northeast problem. It’s a nationwide issue. While the CDC reports that nearly 300,000 new cases of Lyme Disease are reported each year, I estimate that the number is far greater. And while I do not advocate staying indoors and avoiding the great outdoors all together, I do recommend that you take a few common sense precautions before, during, and after you head out to enjoy the world around you:
1. Dress Appropriately
I have watched far too many children and adults camp and hike in shorts, flip flops, and tank tops. I am always left scratching my head. Wearing appropriate clothing while enjoying outdoor activities is the easiest prevention tip to follow.
- Wear a hat – Ticks love to hide in hard to find spots: behind the ears, armpits, groin areas, and in your head. If you have a dark head of hair, finding a minuscule tick hiding in your mane could be next to impossible. Wear a cap or camping hat to reduce the risk of ticks meandering about your head.
- Wear pants – No one wants to wear pants in the summer; I totally get it. However, your legs are the number one part of your body that should be covered while hiking or camping. They will likely be the first parts of you to come into contact with ticks as you brush against trees, branches, tall grass, and bushes. My kids wear lightweight, track style pants or lightweight camping pants. The advancements in clothing are nothing short of amazing. Lightweight, breathable, moisture-wicking, SPF certified clothing is readily available to provide both coverage and comfort.
- Wear long socks – I hate long socks. I’m the first to admit it. But ankle socks or peds just won’t cut it while camping and hiking.
- Tuck your pant legs into your socks – No, this is not terribly fashionable, but it is highly effective. Case in point, we were hiking a few weeks ago. When we arrived home we found several microscopic ticks attached to one of my son’s socks. Had he not been wearing high socks or had not tucked his pants into his socks, those ticks would have likely found a comfy home on his ankle or leg and would have started chowing down.
- Wear a shirt with sleeves – Even in the hottest conditions, we wear long sleeved shirts while hiking. We’ve invested in a good quality, lightweight, moisture-wicking, breathable shirt for each of our children. These shirts allow them to remain cool and covered. At a minimum, you should wear short sleeved shirts. Avoid tank tops .
- Wear appropriate footwear – Flip flops and sandals just don’t cut it. Opt for hiking boots. Even putting the tick issue aside, hiking boots are designed for your safety, providing traction, grip, and support over varying terrain.
2. Stay on the Trail
While hiking, choose to stay on the marked trails. Often times these trails are maintained by park service personnel. In addition, with regular foot traffic, these trails stay clear of thick brush, high grass, and overgrown bushes. Cleared trails provide a bit of space between you and those favorite tick hangouts. Once you meander off the trail and onto unblazed territories, you will likely be walking through unkempt areas where ticks love to call home. Grab a trail map and stay on the trail. Here are some examples of good and not-so-good trails:
3. Use a Good Quality Tick Spray
I am pretty cautious about chemicals. While DEET is an effective deep woods option, it is also highly toxic. I’ve avoided the use of traditional bug and tick sprays all together. A friend of mine recommended a cedar based spray. We’ve used it for years and it has proven to be highly effective. It is expensive but so is treating an undiagnosed tick bite. We use TickShield Tactical by Owens Organics. I receive NO compensation for this recommendation. I simply use it, like it, and have found it to be effective. I recommend spraying both skin and clothing.
4. Strip, Shower, Check
This is our family’s tick check routine. After a time of camping, hiking, or extended outdoor time, we follow these three simple steps.
(A) Immediately go to the laundry room. Strip down to your underwear, and place all of your clothing into the washing machine. Look for any obvious ticks on your body.
(B) Take a shower. Use a washcloth to scrub. Wash your hair thoroughly.
(C) Before getting fully dressed have someone do a tick check. A secondary person needs to carefully look over the back, neck, legs, feet, toes, head, behind ears, armpits, and arms. Ticks can be tiny…as small as a pinhead, a fleck of dirt, or a dot on a piece of paper. Sometimes they can be larger and more obvious. Look each and every time. It only takes one missed tick check to miss a tick.
5. Use Common Sense
Don’t think that it won’t happen to you. Don’t think that a tick is no big deal. Don’t think that some people are simply paranoid, crazy tick lunatics. Don’t think that Lyme Disease is no big deal. Remember, the people writing these types of posts, the people tucking their pants into their socks, the people being adament about staying on a trail, are often the people whose lives have been forever changed by a single tick bite. Heed their warning and advice. None of us want to see anyone of you incapacitated. An undetected tick bite today can cause debilitation five or ten years down the road.
You can read more posts from Life in the Van regarding Lyme Disease here. Work from the bottom of the page, upward.