Enjoying nature and hiking outdoors means that eventually you will encounter nature – like ticks – a bit more closely than you would like. Ticks are a common arachnid that love the trails as much as we do. Not being able to jump or fly does not inhibit these creatures from finding a host to sink their teeth into. They are able to patiently wait on grass or leaves for a passing animal or human to grab onto. Commonly, a tick will start from a low point on the host and work their way up to a tender spot of skin to bite. Then, they find their way to a thin-skinned part of the body and begin feeding. The process of preparing to feed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours. The bite is small and sometimes aided by an anesthetic to cause the victim not to feel the bite and remain unaware of the tick while it’s feeding. Ticks can carry and transmit diseases that can be harmful if left undetected. This is why it is important to try and prevent a tick from biting you. It’s also good to know how to effectively and safely remove a tick if you find one attached to the skin of yourself or your fellow hikers. We’ve compiled some of the best recommendations from the experts on tick prevention and tick removal to share with the Hike it Baby community.
Let’s face it, you can’t go out on a hike and not encounter nature. Tick prevention can start by avoiding areas that are known to be infested with ticks but this is not always feasible. It can help to walk in the middle of the trail and not let little ones or pets wander off-trail into the tall grass. Beyond this, there are other ways to prevent ticks from attaching themselves to you.
Options are available to choose from when considering what kind of insect repellent to use to ward off ticks. Comparing the different types can be overwhelming. Consideration needs to be taken when choosing a repellent for children as well. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are all great resources on the use and efficacy of the various repellents.
The two most studied repellents are DEET and Permethrin. The AAP considers 30% DEET safe for children over the age of 2 months. Products listing a percentage greater than 30% offer no more protection, according to the EPA. Permethrin is to be used on fabric and clothing, not on the skin. Some specialty clothing can be bought that are pre-treated with Permethrin and lasts through several washings, or you can apply the product to gear and clothing yourself. The University of Rhode Island TickEncounter Resource Center recommends using a combination of DEET for the skin and Permethrin on clothing for the best overall protection.
Other options are Picaridin, which is comparable to 10% DEET when it comes to efficacy, and essential oils such as citronella, cedar, eucalyptus, soybean, geranium, and peppermint. It is important to note that the EPA has tested oils for safety but there is not sufficient data on the effectiveness of them. Consult a professional when applying any essential oil to your child’s skin as some can cause rash or other ailments if not diluted properly.
Use your own judgement and consult experts when choosing a repellent. Parents must weigh the choice between using a chemical over risking a tick-borne illness if not using a repellent.
The simple act of covering your skin with clothing can be the barrier needed to prevent tick bites. Wearing closed footwear, long socks, long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and hats can help protect your skin from a tick grabbing hold. Tuck pants into socks or use rubber bands around the ankles to keep them sealed. Tuck your shirt into your pants or make sure the waist is fitted. Make sure hair is pulled back or tucked under a hat. Some clothes can be treated with Permethrin as an added barrier. If your child is in a framed pack carrier for the hike, mosquito netting made for strollers can be placed up and around the sunshade of the carrier and tucked under for an extra layer of protection.
Sometimes, even with appropriate clothing donned and a multitude of repellents used, a tick can find it’s way onto your skin. Performing a head to toe tick check before getting in the car at the end of the hike can locate the ones clinging stubbornly to your clothing or gear. If you feel faint-hearted about touching ticks with your bare hands, you aren’t alone! Using a travel-sized lint roller or the sticky side of duct tape on the ticks stuck to your clothes and gear is a great way to remove them without actually touching them. Ticks that have found their way onto your outerwear and gear can hang out there and be transported to your home if not removed on site. Make sure that they stay away from your home and skin by checking for ticks before placing gear in the car or getting in the car yourself.
After you have checked your outer layers, it’s time to check your skin. It may not be possible to check your entire body at the trail head, so experts suggest taking a shower and checking thoroughly at least 2 hours after you get home. There are hot spots on humans that are prone to tick bites where the skin is thinner and easiest for a tick to pierce.
It’s helpful to keep items in your pack and on your person, or at least in your car, during a hike that can help prevent and remove ticks. Pack repellent and reapply as directed. Tweezers are handy for removing a tick from the skin. A lint roller can remove those pesky critters that are stuck to your clothes or gear. Rubber bands can keep hair pulled back and pant legs secured. Alcohol swabs kept in a first aid kit can be used to clean any wounds from a tick that has punctured the skin. Consider packing mosquito netting to place around the carrier if you are on a trail that is teeming with ticks. Having a container, such as a plastic baggie, can be useful in order to dispose of a tick that has punctured skin or to possibly keep to send in for testing.
Tick Removal and Disposal
If you happen to find a tick attached to skin while still on the trail you should remove it as soon as possible. Try to stay calm. If you are too shaky to remove the tick yourself you should ask a fellow hiker to help. Jerky, quick tugs on an attached tick can cause the head to become separated from the body and stay embedded in the skin. To avoid this, follow these instructions for safely removing a feeding tick from the skin:
- Use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible
- Steadily – but not quickly – pull upward (do not jerk or twist)
- Clean the wound with soap and water or with an alcohol swab
The AAP states that if the head breaks apart from the body when removing and remains in the skin to try to remove it. If only a small piece remains the skin will shed it on its own. However, in either case, it’s best to call your healthcare provider for further advice.
Disposing of the tick afterwards is important as well. Sealing the tick in a container until it can be properly disposed is the best method. Do not crush a tick with your fingertips. Flushing the tick down the toilet, wrapping it tightly in tape, or submersing it in alcohol are appropriate ways to dispose of a tick. If you are worried about the tick carrying a transmittable disease you can save the tick in the container and bring it to your healthcare provider or send it in to a specialty lab for further diagnostic testing.
Rachele Kaske is a board member for the Wisconsin Lyme Network. Kaske is an advocate for the prevention of Lyme disease and suggests carrying a tick identification card. You can find these and other important resources by following your local Lyme Network on Facebook or other social media. Kaske herself suffered from Lyme disease and said, “After I was sick for so long with no answers, and then got 100% better, I made it my mission to help educate others!”
Help to protect your family and community by sharing the resources for preventing tick bites and the spread of tick-borne illnesses. While not every tick will carry a disease, prevention is the key to stopping the spread of these diseases from those that do.
TickEncounter Resource Center
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
US Environmental Protection Agency
American Academy of Pediatrics
National Pesticide Information Center
Lyme Disease Network
Under Our Skin documentary
DIY Natural Tick Repellent Recipe
This article is written for Hike it Baby as an informational tool for readers. We are not experts in this field and refer readers to their personal healthcare providers when seeking advice on medical matters. References to well-respected websites and professionals are linked in this post for the most up to date information on this topic.
Christel Peters is a Branch Lead for Hike it Baby Spearfish and the Mama to Sebastian. When she isn’t chasing her adventurous toddler on the trails she is a Blog Editor for Hike it Baby. Do you have a story that should appear on our blog? Let us know!! email your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org