Hiking is a favorite pastime for many people during the warmer summer months. Whether your hiking trail of choice takes you through open prairie, meandering near a babbling creek or to distant mountain peaks, ticks can be a nuisance and potential health hazard.
A tick has four stages in its life cycle and needs to eat blood from birds, reptiles, amphibians or mammals during each of those stages. Some types of ticks prefer specific hosts during different stages of the lifecycle. Humans are more likely to be hosts during the late spring and summer months due to increased outdoor activity that time of year.
Ticks wait on tall grass and bushes relying on odors and sensing body heat, moisture and vibrations from potential hosts. The miniscule creatures latch onto animals and people as they pass the waiting area. Ticks may feed immediately or take time to find a desirable location. They feed by cutting into hosts and inserting a feeding tube. They will feed until full, possibly as long as a few days, or until removed.
Hosts with infections in their blood will pass those pathogens to ticks during the feeding process. Ticks can then transmit diseases to subsequent hosts. Possible diseases include, but aren’t limited to, Colorado Tick Fever and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Symptoms for tick-transmitted diseases can include headache, stomach pain, vomiting, muscle pain, fever and skin rash.
People should avoid areas with tall grass and leaf piles and should walk in the middle of trails and avoid brushing past foliage. Bug repellents with 20 percent or more DEET will help keep ticks away. Complete a full-body tick check after being outdoors including in and around ears, belly buttons, behind knees and hair and bathe within two hours of coming indoors. Clothes, gears and pets should also be checked.
If a tick is found, use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible and pull away from the skin without twisting the tick. The goal is to remove the tick with its mouth intact and not imbedded in the host. Clean the skin with alcohol or soap and water after removal. Flush the tick down a toilet for quick disposal. Never use fingers to squish a tick.