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Forest Safety: Ticks and Lyme Disease

Forest Safety: Ticks and Lyme Disease
by J. Zimmerman, Ph.D.

Ticks are a significant hazard in hiking. What are seven ways to protect yourself from ticks and possible exposure to Lyme Disease? What three things should you do if bitten by a tick while hiking? And what five things should you do after a visit to an environment that has ticks?

Ticks: the basics.

Seven ways to protect yourself from ticks.

Exercise caution. Protections include:

  1. Avoidance. Avoid tick-infested areas, when possible. Don't bushwhack or make a short-cut through a heavily wooded, tick-infested areas.
  2. Check your body frequently while hiking. See advice from Lyme Disease Foundation, Inc., etc., for how to recognize ticks. A tick check includes:
  3. Insect repellent. Use appropriate, EPA-approved insect repellent. Check its label to see if it works for ticks. Adults should apply the repellent for children.
  4. Reduce the exposure of your skin. Wear boots, long pants, long-sleeved shirt, a hat. Tuck shirt into pants and pants into socks.
  5. Stay off the ground. Avoid sitting on the ground.
  6. Stay centered. Stay in the center of paths.
  7. Wear light-colored clothing. This increases your potential to see ticks on your clothes, where you can brush them off before they can attach to your skin and bite you.

Three things to do if bitten by a tick while hiking.

  1. Remove with tweezers.
  2. Save in a plastic bag for later analysis if you suspect you are in an area with Lyme Disease.
  3. Clean the bite with antiseptic.

Five things to do after a visit to an environment that has ticks.

  1. Shower. While showering, check your body for ticks. If you find one: remove it; clean the place you found it with antiseptic; save the tick for possible analysis.
  2. While you shower, be sure to wash off all insect repellents you applied.
  3. Bitten by a tick? If you were bitten, follow the guidelines from Lyme Disease Foundation, Inc.
  4. Wash clothes.
  5. If you took a pet with you (on a leash, of course): check it for ticks; remove what you find; wash your pet. A pet that brings a tick into your home can threaten you and your family with infection.

Where is Lyme Disease most common?

In 1997 (Charles A. Sutherland in Sea Kayaker (June 1999)), states in the USA with over 1000 reported Lyme Disease cases were:

  1. CT.
  2. NJ.
  3. NY.
  4. PA.
and states with 100-to-999 reported Lyme Disease cases were:
  1. CA.
  2. MN.
  3. WI.

Naming names

Charles A. Sutherland (Sea Kayaker, June 1999), reports these agents of Lyme Disease:

  1. Lyme disease is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi, a spirochete bacterium.
  2. On Pacific coast, B. burgdorferi is carried by Ixodes pacificus (western black-legged tick).
  3. In the northeast, the upper Midwest, and in Florida, B. burgdorferi is carried by I. scapularis (black-legged tick aka deer tick aka bear tick).
  4. Transfer of Lyme Disease to humans is most common in late spring through mid-summer, via pin-head-sized tick lavae.


Symptoms of Lyme Disease (after Charles A. Sutherland (Sea Kayaker, June 1999)):

  1. 3 to 30 days after the bite, bull's-eye rash (a red rash-like ring around the original bite) appears in half of victims.
  2. Ring spreads up to 6" in diameter.
  3. Weeks or months later, flu-like symptoms (muscle and joint pain, fatigue, headache, etc.)
  4. Advanced cases may cause severe arthritis or serious neurological or cardiac symptoms.

John J. Kelley (winner of 1957 Boston Marathon) reported shortness of breath. Fortunately his Lyme Disease was cured by antibiotics.

Book Choice.

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