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Ask Me: Protecting Your Family From Ticks While Hiking

Ask Me: Protecting Your Family From Ticks While Hiking

Hello Michael,

I just stumbled on your amazing blog and ordered your book—I can’t wait to read it! I am completely inspired by your blog. I have one question: I am from the Northeast originally and a cousin of mine had very serious, chronic Lyme disease, which has instilled a huge fear in me of that and other tick-borne diseases. How do you protect your children from these things? Do you spray them down with insect repellent? (I try to avoid chemicals as much as possible.) Thank you so much for your help and your wonderful blog!

Sincerely,
Sarah
Encinitas, CA

 

Hiking the Old Jackson Road in the Presidential Range, N.H.

Hiking the Old Jackson Road in the Presidential Range, N.H.

Hi Sarah,

Thanks for writing and for following The Big Outside, and for buying my book. I hope you enjoy it.

I grew up in Massachusetts and visit family there every summer. I know people and I’ve met other hikers and backpackers who’ve contracted Lyme disease, and it’s horrible if not diagnosed and treated soon. Tick-borne diseases are a bigger problem in some regions, like the Northeast, than other parts of the country, primarily from May through July.

The federal Centers For Disease Control points out that 95 percent of Lyme disease cases occur in 14 states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. The CDC site also reports that more than 60 percent of the cases of misleadingly named Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever occur in five states: Arkansas, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

None of the states on either list are in the West, but that website also notes that infected ticks can also be found in neighboring states and in some areas of Northern California, Oregon and Washington.

That paper also notes that 42 percent of people living where Lyme disease is common reported taking no preventive measures against ticks.

 

Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside, which has made several top outdoors blog lists. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter, or enter your email address in the box in the left sidebar or at the bottom of this story. Click here to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Follow my adventures on Facebook, TwitterInstagram, and Youtube.

 

My daughter hiking in the Boise Foothills.

My daughter hiking in the Boise Foothills.

See cdc.gov/ticks for more information on preventive measures.

I worry more about protecting my kids from UV exposure, to be honest. But that’s not to dismiss the dangers of ticks.

The CDC recommends using insect repellents on exposed skin that contain at least 20 percent DEET (the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends products for kids with up to 30 percent DEET and reapplying every two hours), and treating clothing, boots, and gear like tents with permethrin. The AAP also notes that disease transmission doesn’t usually occur until the tick has been attached for at least 48 hours.

Besides repellents, the best strategies are wearing clothing that covers exposed skin in situations that call for it—including tucking pant legs inside socks or gaiters—and inspecting your kids once or twice during a long hike and right after the hike. I’ve plucked many a tick from my kids and myself (as well as, more rarely, leeches). Ticks are easy to remove if you find them quickly. Once it has embedded, it’s a little harder to get one off, but always use tweezers and grip and steadily pull on the tick until it releases. They won’t give up easily; I once had one on my behind and my wife had to pull on it with tweezers for a minute or two to get it off. But it came off.

Ticks are most prevalent in tall grass and at the boundaries of forest and open, grassy areas, and leaf-covered ground. If you’re walking off-trail or on a narrow trail flanked by grass or brush, wear long pants tucked into the tops of socks.

 

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A hiker takes in the view from the Zeacliff Trail, White Mountains, N.H.

Mark Fenton takes in the view from the Zeacliff Trail, White Mountains, N.H.

Mostly, I tried to make my kids (who are now teenagers) aware of ticks beginning when they were very young—and I find that just telling them, “Check yourself for ticks,” grosses them out enough to inspire them to perform a thorough personal inspection (although it’s critical to show them how to do that, and show them what a tick looks like when you find one). Inspect younger kids yourself. Inspect dogs closely; they run off-trail and often pick up ticks and bring them into the home. There are products for dogs, including tick collars, sprays, and shampoos.

Symptoms of tick-borne diseases can resemble other, more-common illnesses, so if someone becomes ill and you suspect Lyme disease, it’s important to tell your doctor that the sick person has been outdoors recently and possibly exposed to ticks.

 

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I hope that’s helpful. Read that CDC paper, it’s very useful.

Nice to hear from you. Check out a menu of all of my stories about family adventures and my All Trips page at The Big Outside.

Best,
Michael

 

I can help you plan the best backpacking, hiking, or family adventure of your life.

Got a question about hiking, backpacking, planning a family adventure, or any trip I’ve written about at The Big Outside? Email it to me at michael@thebigoutside.com. For just $75, I’ll answer your questions via email or in a phone call to help ensure your trip is a success. See my Ask Me page.

—Michael Lanza

 

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About The Author

Michael Lanza

A former field editor and primary gear reviewer for Backpacker Magazine, Michael Lanza created The Big Outside to share stories and images from his many backpacking, hiking, and other outdoor adventures, as well as expert tips and gear reviews to help readers plan and pull off their own great adventures.

5 Comments

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  1. Avatar

    Thanks for the tips. As a Dad, I’m getting more and more anxious when kids are playing outdoors and in the garden. Not sure how to protect them without using strong, reliable chemical tick repellents, but there are some good ideas!

    Reply
    • MichaelALanza

      I can appreciate how you feel, Jason. I’ve always been diligent about checking my kids for ticks and teaching them to check themselves. Thanks for the comment.

      Reply
  2. Avatar

    Some great tips here. Lyme Disease is also appearing in the UK, so good to know how to avoid it.

    Reply
  3. Avatar

    Michael,

    Permethrin is also effective at repelling ticks. While there are some clothes that come pre-treated with the product, you can also purchase the product separately to treat clothes and tents, etc.

    The Permethrin-treated clothing retains its effectiveness much longer than self-treated clothing.

    Permethrin should not be applied directly on the skin. Therefore a combination of treated clothes and carefully applied DEET can provide effective protection.

    The post-hike inspection is still a necessary protection measure.

    Cheers.

    Reply
    • MichaelALanza

      Thanks for sharing your experience-based observations, John.

      Reply

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