Ticks and mosquitos are top of the vector class when it comes to disease transmission.
These little blood suckers can carry and transmit viruses, bacteria and parasites.
Indeed, when it comes to spending time out in the wilderness, hikers are exponentially more likely to fall foul of ticks and mosquitos than they are of bears or snakes. Yet it has often struck me that folks spend a disproportionate amount of time worried about the latter, and not enough time thinking about the basic precautions needed to guard against the former.
Ticks are generally encountered when walking through long grasses or overgrown, brushy terrain. However, if you take the necessary precautions and are diligent with your “body checks” (see below), they represent more of an inconvenience than a serious threat to your health whilst out on the trail.
Six Preventative Measures
1. Choice of Attire: Appropriate clothing is your best defence in tick country. A hat, pants and a long sleeve shirt are ideal. Light coloured items are preferable as they make it easier to spot the little burrowers.
2. Permethrin: If you will be hiking in an area that is known to be tick infested, consider treating your clothing with permethrin in advance.
3. Stick to the Middle of the trail when walking through overgrown, brushy terrain. Ticks love nothing better than to ambush hikers when they come into contact with long grass and low lying bushes.
4. Breaks: When taking breaks in tick country do not sit directly on the ground, particularly in brushy overgrown areas.
5. Repellent: For exposed areas of the skin, consider applying insect repellent with 30% DEET. I have found that anything with a higher percentage than this is overkill. Note that DEET is not as effective against ticks as permethrin, but the latter should ONLY be used on clothes.
6. Regular Body Checks: In addition to the widely recommended full body check at day’s end, I generally do a series of brief revisions every 30 to 60 minutes whilst hiking through tick infested areas. Why so often? Ticks usually spend about an hour (sometimes less) crawling about before they begin burrowing into your skin. The key is to get them before they start digging. Three points to note:
A. By being diligent about checking regularly you significantly minimise the probability of being bitten.
B. If you are bitten, chances are you can catch and extract (see below) the little bugger before he is well and truly embedded.
C. If like myself you are a “shorts” rather than a “pants” hiker, you need to check more often than your trousered brethren.
Remove with tweezers. Press the blades firmly against the skin, one each side of the tick’s head, and then pull the tick straight out. Be careful not to twist, as this could result in leaving part of the tick embedded in your skin, which could in turn lead to infection.
- Apply antiseptic solution to the area.
- Tick-borne Illness: If you are feeling below par a couple of weeks after been bitten, you may have contracted a tick-borne illness such as lyme disease. In such cases, it is recommended to seek medical advice ASAP.
As with ticks, the key to dealing with mosquitos is prevention. Measures include:
- Clothing: Long sleeves and pants. Light weight and light coloured. In areas where mosquitos are particularly ferocious you may consider treating your clothes with permethrin.
Head Net: Head nets weigh next to nothing and can be a sanity-saver in infested areas.
- Insect Repellent: DEET-based repellents are the most effective (30% is sufficient). Be careful not to apply too much to your face.
- Campsite Selection: Whenever possible, pitch your shelter at an elevated location where you are more likely to benefit from a breeze. Avoid camping right next to water sources where bugs are more prevalent.
- Dawn & Dusk: When hiking through areas in which mosquitos are known to be prevalent, particularly during their most active periods at dawn and dusk, avoid taking lengthy breaks. Alternatively plan to be inside the confines of your shelter during these times of the day.