Flecks of sunlight filter through the tree-coverage and line the trail with gorgeous geometric patterns. Although I’ve been here before, it feels foreign to me as it does every summer when I make my first solo sojourn and spy subtle differences that have occurred during my winter absence. My over-warm skin yearns to escape the nearly overpowering summer sunlight and disappear into it’s shady depths. Yet, I know, that something sinister lies in this forest: ticks.
Some of my friends and acquaintances have decided to shun the outdoors in an effort to safeguard their children and themselves from receiving the potentially life-altering bite from one of these parasites. With stories of increased numbers of people contracting Lyme Disease and the Powassan virus, which is typically uncommon, on the news, I understand their position.
However, we face risk daily. Most of us drive cars, despite the risk of a potential crash; many of us ride bikes, despite the risk that we could fall; and large numbers of us swim, despite the risk of drowning.
As such, I haven’t let these reports stop me from doing what I love the most: hiking in the woods. I am an active member of two local child-friendly hiking groups: The Rain or Shine Club and Hike It Baby Cumberland County, so my daughter and I have an increased risk of exposure. I have, however, taken proactive measures, following the CDC’s guidelines, to reduce our risk.
- Stick to the trail. Ticks are most frequently found in the damp, shaded areas on the edges of the woods in old leaves, long grass, or brush. The chance of receiving a bite is reduced if hikers stay near the trail’s high traffic areas where wild animals are less likely to roam and spread the parasite.
- Wear light-colored, pattern-free long-sleeve shirts and pants. When I go hiking with my daughter, I try to wear light colored clothing without a pattern, so it is easier to spot and flick off any ticks that might be crawling on us. Unless it is an extremely warm day, we typically wear long sleeve shirts and full length pants, so there is less exposed skin to bite. Finally, I frequently try to tuck my daughter’s pants into her socks, so no vermin sneak into the clothing gap. When I get back to my car, I keep a sticky lint roller handy to collect any ticks that might be wandering.
- Use insect repellent. The CDC recommends using repellents that contain DEET, picaridin, or IR3535. Although the chemicals found in these repellents are reported to be safe for human use, some outdoor enthusiast feel hesitant about exposing their children or themselves to the chemicals, so they opt to use alternate remedies like essential oils. A complete list of CDC approved repellents, which includes chemical-free concoctions, can be found here. Many of the adventurous mothers in my circle have had success creating their own tick repellents using like this.
- Keep tweezers (or other tick removal devices) and antiseptic cream readily available when hiking. Reports indicate that the Powassan virus can transmit from parasite to host in as little as fifteen minutes, so I have started packing tweezers and antiseptic cream in my hiking backpack, so I can remove an attached tick as soon as I find it. While no more than twelve cases have been reported nationwide in any given year since 2005, the virus may be more prevalent in Maine than previously believed. During a tick survey this spring, the Maine Medical Center Research Institute discovered that over seven percent of the 203 adult ticks tested, which were collected from thirty towns and eleven counties, carried the virus.
- Perform a tick check and take a shower when you arrive home. As soon as I get home from an outdoor excursion, we take a shower after completing a full body inspection in front of the mirror, paying special attention to the “hot spots” behind our ears, inside our belly buttons, along our waists, between our legs, behind our knees, and in our hair, to wash away any ticks that might still be wandering.