As a kid, I thought nothing of picking ticks off me after a day in the woods. While the blood sucking little creeps were a nuisance, we never thought they’d carry a deadly disease.
Today, however, ticks are no small matter, and tackling tick season successfully is important for anyone venturing into field or forest
The insect most likely to carry Lyme disease in Idaho and Montana is the western black legged tick. Not all ticks are infected, but there’s no way to tell by sight if one is infected or not.
The ticks actually contract the bacterial disease most often from infected deer or mice and act as a carrier since the tick isn’t affected by the bacterium at all. The risk of the tick transmitting the disease increases the longer it is attached to you.
A classic bite from a tick carrying Lyme disease results in an expanding red bulls-eye around the bite site within one to four weeks of contraction.
In 70 to 80 percent of infected people, an expanding rash occurs with a significant number of people showing flu-like symptoms of fever, chills, headaches, fatigue, and muscle aches. In addition, some people experience swollen lymph nodes and joint pain.
While a blood test taken three to four weeks after a bite can confirm the disease, many doctors manage a bite with classic symptoms proactively, not waiting for the blood test.
Lyme disease is most curable when treated early with antibiotics. This works because the culprit is a bacterium, killed with the right prescribed drugs.
If the disease is not diagnosed and treated promptly, more body systems can be affected, including damage to joints, heart,and nervous system, often happening weeks to months after the bite.
Other rashes may also appear on the body, the person may experience intermittent pain and weakness in legs and arms, develop headaches, experience memory problems, and may suffer from Bell’s palsy, a partial loss of control of facial nerves and muscles.
Unfortunately, those who go undiagnosed for months or whose treatment is unsuccessful, joint inflammation, abnormal nerve sensations, and confusion may become pronounced and long lasting.
Depending on the weather, April is the typical start of tick season in Idaho and Montana. This is when my dog always gets his first application of tick medicine. Unfortunately for people, no treatment exist to make us safe from ticks. Prevention is the name of the game for people.
As you move through grass or shrubs in woody areas or open grasslands, ticks can brush off onto your body or clothes. Be tick-smart, and always wear a hat and long sleeves. Tuck your pants inside your socks. April through June is the time I wear long pants, not shorts, when I hike, fish, turkey hunt, or ride bikes or horses.
I liberally apply insect repellent containing DEET on any exposed skin and apply permethrin to my hat, the bottoms of my pant legs, and my boots, but NEVER to my skin. If it’s an unusually active tick season, I continue these preventative measures through July.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends checking your body and clothes for ticks after being in the great outdoors. Ticks love more sheltered parts of your body, so be sure to check your hairline, your armpits, and, unfortunately, your groin.
For those areas of your body you can’t see easily, use a mirror or ask a partner or spouse to check you over. I’ve found ticks in my scalp when I didn’t wear a hat and around my waist after floundering through thick brush hunting, even in the fall, which was a huge surprise.
When I’m riding my horse in brushy areas or in the woods, I push my long hair up under my helmet and make sure I apply insect repellent to all sides of my neck. CDC experts suggest showering after being in a likely tick-infested area and putting clothes you wore outside in a hot dryer to kill any hitchhikers.
If you do find an attached tick, don’t panic. Take fine-tipped tweezers, grab the head of the tick, and pull straight out, with no twisting.
Applying fingernail polish or Vaseline will not remove the tick.
Once you’ve removed the tick, kill it, clean the site, and apply a topical antiseptic. Keep an eye on the site for several weeks: if you notice any of the symptoms listed on the CDC website, go to a doctor immediately.
Avoiding ticks in the first place is the best step for successfully tackling tick season.
For the best information on Lyme Disease, symptoms, and prevention, go to www.cdc.gov/lyme