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The Roving Sportsman… Ticks!

The winter doldrums are finally behind us, and although this spring has been offering more wet weather than usual, for outdoorsmen who are about to spend an increasing amount of time in the out of doors in the upcoming months, it is only a matter of time until you come in contact with ticks. Whether you are fishing at your favorite mountain stream, hunting spring gobbler or working on food plots according to your wildlife management plan, you must be vigilant about encountering ticks. So what is the big hype about ticks, what’s the latest on Lyme disease, and how can we best avoid all of this? It’s crucial to understand that ticks can pose serious health risks, including the potential for debilitating tick-borne diseases.

The tick of greatest concern in our area is the black-legged tick – often referred to as the “deer tick.” They do not exclusively feed upon deer but instead prefer to attach to small mammals such as mice and chipmunks and occasionally birds. They will also feed on large mammals such as raccoons, deer and bears, livestock, and even humans. People who spend any amount of time in the outdoors are at risk of exposure to these ticks and contracting a tick-borne illness. Hunters, hikers, fishermen, and those folks who work outdoors are more likely to be bitten by ticks since they spend more time in forest edges, wooded areas, tall grasses, and other areas preferred by ticks. Pets that spend time out of doors are especially susceptible to becoming a host to ticks and can carry these unwanted parasites into a home.

Ticks cannot jump or fly but instead crawl to the top of tall grasses where they await a passing host. They then crawl onto clothing or fur, find a preferred spot, and begin feeding, which may last for several days. They may attach just about anywhere on a human but prefer moist, dark areas, such as under the arms, the groin area, or under the waistband.

If you locate a tick, remove it immediately. The longer it remains attached, the greater the risk of a transfer of a tick-borne disease, such as Lyme disease. Be careful. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible with sterile tweezers or a tick removal tool (check with your local drug store for this) and slowly pull upward with a steady, even tug. After removal, wash and disinfect the area where the tick was attached. Dispose of the tick by submerging it in rubbing alcohol for more than a day, wrap it tightly in tape, and throw it in the trash or flush it down the toilet. This may seem a bit extreme, but ask anyone who has been stricken by Lyme disease, and they would totally agree with these careful and proper disposal methods.

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to help avoid tick encounters to begin with. Wearing light-colored long pants, a long sleeved shirt and close-toed shoes will help. Tuck your shirt into the pants and tuck the pants leg into socks or boots. Use insect repellent that contains greater than 20 percent DEET on exposed skin and clothing. A very effective preventative is to treat your clothing with a product containing 0.5 percent permethrin. These measures are proven to significantly reduce the risk of tick bites, giving you the power to protect yourself.

What is Lyme disease, and how can it be detected and treated? Typical symptoms can occur within days, or sometimes they may take weeks, including fever, headache, chills, stiff neck, fatigue, joint pain, muscle aches, and depression. A telltale sign of Lyme disease is a red rash in the form of a “bullseye” anywhere on the body. If detected early, Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics, and recovery can be quick. If untreated immediately, the infection can spread to other parts of the body, producing life-long illnesses or even death.

Today, another culprit has extended its range throughout Pennsylvania. It is the Lone Star Tick and can cause alpha-gal meat allergy. Its bite can result in other serious medical conditions, including death. If bitten by an infected Lone Star tick, symptoms may not occur right away but can include mild fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, nausea, diarrhea, joint pain, confusion, rash, and cough. If you have been infected, these symptoms may also occur after eating red meat.

Remember to take preventative steps to avoid encounters with ticks, do a full body check when returning from outdoors. And most importantly, contact your Doctor whenever Lone Star tick or Lyme disease symptoms are noted, or a telltale red “bullseye” is identified anywhere on your body. Seeking medical help promptly can make a significant difference in the outcome of a tick-borne illness, providing you with the reassurance and support you need.