Just when you were breathing a welcomed sigh of relief that the cold fall and winter weather would bring an end to the unforgiving spring and summer tick season, think again. Thanks to a protein in their bodies that works like antifreeze, ticks survive cold temperatures remarkably well, and can be found looking for a host to bite such as you whenever the temperature is above freezing and the ground is not frozen or covered with snow.
YEAR ROUND PROBLEM COAST TO COAST
Ticks have become a year round problem from the east coast to the west coast all across the country for a variety of reasons, most important of which, there just are so many more of them out there. And though the ticks you find in the fall and winter months are somewhat different than the ones you find in spring and summer, they can make you just as sick with Lyme disease or any number of other tick-borne diseases if you are on the receiving end of their bite. In the spring and summer months, depending on which part of the country you live in, you generally have to deal with a collection of ticks including deer ticks, Western blacklegged ticks, American dog ticks, brown dog ticks, Lone Star ticks, Gulf Coast ticks, Rocky Mountain wood ticks, or Pacific Coast ticks. But come the fall and winter months, some of these tick species become inactive for a period of time (diapause) until the warmer temperatures of spring return. However, those that do remain are no less dangerous than the warmer weather ticks they took the place of in how very sick they can make you. These cold-weather ticks include the well-known deer tick if you live in the eastern two thirds of the country, and the brown dog tick, western blacklegged tick, or Pacific Coast tick if you live in the western third of the country. The only upside to this seemingly never-ending tick dilemma is that these remaining cold-weather ticks are usually the adults, and because they are bigger (about the size of a sesame seed) than the immature stages of ticks, they are somewhat more easily detected when crawling on you. The downside is, that because these adult ticks are older than the immature tick stages, they are also more likely to be carrying disease organisms in their bodies that they can pass on to you with their bite.
ENJOYING THE GREAT OUTDOORS—A CATCH-22
So how do you enjoy the great outdoors, whether as a participant or as a spectator in a recreational activity, when the reality is that when outside you have to be continually on your guard against ticks. You are likely to find ticks in substantial numbers in the woods, in leaf litter, at the transition edge (ecotone) of the woods with grassy, brush and garden areas, on and along stone walls, in brush and leaf piles, on tree stumps and logs, along hiking and walking trails, golf courses (especially in the rough), in dog parks, and high shrub and grass areas. Considering where ticks can be found, what common outdoor fall and winter activities can be assumed high-risk for tick bites? Unfortunately for us, these activities are pretty varied and can include such pursuits as yard cleanup and end-of-season gardening, raking leaves, jumping in leaf piles, playing in your own backyard, participating in sporting events like soccer and football, watching sporting events from the sidelines, picnicking in the park, camping, golfing, hunting, hiking, pumpkin picking, Christmas tree cutting, etc. Avoiding these hidden dangers is key to preventing getting bitten by a tick and becoming infected with a tick-borne disease. But if you cannot avoid these risky tick infested areas, there are certain prevention measures you can take to better protect yourself and your family.
PREVENTION MEASURES TO EVADE TICK BITES
When outdoors, it is recommended that you wear tick repellent clothing. The clothing should be treated with permethrin, an insecticide that can be purchased from most large sporting goods stores. Permethrin repels and kills ticks and has been approved by the EPA as safe for use on clothing apparel worn by both adults and children. You can treat your own clothing and footwear, or purchase pre-treated clothing with the proprietary Insect Shield label from suppliers such as: REI, LLBean, ExOfficio, Orvis, etc. Once per month you should also spray outdoor shoes, athletic gear, tennis bags, back packs, camping gear (anything that could end up on the ground outside) with permethrin to keep the ticks away. Wearing an EPA-approved insect repellent on exposed skin parts will also provide added protection, but by itself, does not work as effectively as tick repellent clothing At the end of the outdoor activity or certainly by the end of the day, you should conduct full body tick checks of yourself and family members who go outside. Be sure to check some of those places you are more likely to find ticks – those more moist parts of your body between your toes, behind your knees, in the navel, groin area, on your back, under your arms, back of neck, behind and in your ears, within body or neck skin folds, or on your scalp. You can never check too often, as ticks can be very hard to find. And if you do find a tick attached to you, safely remove it and seek the advice of your health care giver regarding treatment options as soon as possible. Time is of the essence. Save the tick, dead or alive and place it in a zip-lock bag. Different types of ticks carry different disease organisms, and there are labs in this country where the tick can be mailed which will identify the tick for you and test it to see if it is carrying pathogens which you may have been infected with. If you follow these recommendations and use good common sense when engaging in outdoor fall and winter activities, you can sidestep these hidden tick dangers and avoid becoming sick with very serious diseases such as Lyme disease and other tick-borne infections.