Don’t Be Ticked Off– Just Be Tick Aware!
Updated: May 17
It’s that time of year again when we need to be a little more vigilant outdoors.
Photo by Unsplash
As an active family that spends a lot of time outdoors, we regularly play the game: "is that dirt or a tick?" With our toddlers in the bath. Fortunately, it’s usually dirt, but we follow the motto “better safe than sorry,” when it comes to those pesky hitchhikers.
Why are we concerned about ticks? Thankfully, not every tick carries disease, however, there is no way to know which ones do, by just looking at it. This is why we are cautious when it comes to preventing tick bites.
What is Lyme Disease?
Although Borrelia burgdorferi sounds like the name of your Victorian ancestor, it is actually the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
In North America, the two most common species of ticks that spread Lyme disease are:
A little souvenir I brought back from our hike
Blacklegged tick (sometimes called the deer tick), and
Western blacklegged tick
Keep in mind, that not every blacklegged tick carries Lyme disease, but best to practice preventive measures to avoid bringing home any of these freeloaders, just in case.
The easiest way to steer clear of ticks and Lyme disease is to stay out of wooded areas and tall grasses. However, that’s not realistic if you enjoy camping and getting outdoors. The next best way to prevent getting bit are:
Wear light-colored clothing (you’re more likely to see them on you)
Wear long-sleeved shirts, hats, and pants. Tuck pant legs into your socks, and your shirt into your pants
Wear closed-toe footwear
Perform daily tick checks on pets, children, yourself, and your gear when coming in from hiking and camping
Shower or bathe when coming back indoors
Put clothes in the dryer on high heat, or strip at the door (like we do), leaving clothes outside until you're ready to put them in the wash, and then dry on high heat
Use insect repellent, and reapply as directed on the bottle. It is recommended to use DEET (however use cautiously in children, and ensure that it is 10% or less, and 20-30% for anyone over 12 years of age)
Also, there are DEET-free alternatives (Icaridin/picaridin, Lemon Eucalyptus oil, etc.) which studies have shown are just as effective as 10% DEET, but not necessarily “safer”, and also should be used cautiously in young children. I encourage you to do your own research and talk to your healthcare provider to decide which repellent would be the best fit for your family.
And lastly, remove ticks as soon as you find them.
Check out this poster for the Top 10 Tick Hiding Spots On Your Body and what to look for, created by the Public Health Agency of Canada.
You Found a Tick, Now What?
Despite being cautious and taking preventive measures, you still managed to get yourself a stage 5 clinger (do people even say that phrase anymore??). Don’t panic, I’ve been there…. A handful of times. My husband calls me a tick magnet. For some reason, he has never had one (or at least never found one), but I've had 4; our oldest has had one, and our dog has had a couple as well.
The sooner you remove ticks, the better, in order to prevent contracting Lyme disease. So as soon as you see a tick, make it a priority to remove it.
What you will need:
A tick removal tool or fine-tipped tweezers
Rubbing alcohol or soap and water
An airtight sealed container or bag
These items should also be included in your camping first aid kit. If you haven’t subscribed yet, ensure to do so to get our first aid checklist, exclusive to subscribers.
How to Remove Ticks
Using a tick remover or tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. You don’t want to squeeze too hard and make sure you’re not grabbing the juicy butt.
Next, pull the tick straight up from the skin. Do NOT twist, or jerk the tick; this will cause the head to break off in the skin.
Photo by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
3. If the tick comes out but the head or a piece of the head remains embedded, try and remove what you can. Don’t panic if you can’t get the head completely out, your body will expel it out.
4. Next, put the tick in a sealed bag or container (keep the tick in case you develop symptoms of Lyme disease and it needs to be tested). Otherwise, dispose of it after submerging in rubbing alcohol or flushing it down the toilet.
5. Wash the bite area and your hands with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.
6. Put an antibiotic ointment (eg. Polysporin) on the bite site.
Signs and Symptoms to Look Out For
After having a tick bite, it is important to monitor for symptoms of tickborne illness for up to 30 days.
What are you looking for?
Skin Rash (“bulls-eye” appearance is common in Lyme disease), but does not always present this way. The rash may be warm, but not usually itchy or painful
Erythema migrans (bulls-eye rash). Photo by CDC
Muscle and joint pain
Weakness or paralysis of face muscles
Or if the bite area looks infected.
If you or your child experience any of these symptoms, contact your healthcare provider. Or if in doubt, get it checked out.
I hope this information has been more helpful than distressing. It is meant to prepare you, and not scare you.
For our family, we believe the benefit of getting outdoors outweighs the risk of possibly getting bit by a tick, and an even lower chance of getting sick from it.
By following the preventive measures we’ve provided, you can worry less about tickborne illness and focus more on enjoying camping and hiking with your family.
BC Centre for Disease Control. (n.d.). Lyme Disease.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, Aug 5). Tick Removal.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021 Jan 15). Signs and Symptoms of Untreated Lyme Disease. https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/signs_symptoms/index.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, Sep 30). Preventing Tick Bites on People. https://www.cdc.gov/lyme/prev/on_people.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, Aug 5). Symptoms of Tickborne Illness. https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/symptoms.html
Government of Canada. (2021, Jun 21). Lyme Disease. Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/diseases/lyme.html
Government of Canada. (2020, Jun 15). Poster: Top 10 tick hiding spots on your body.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2020, Oct 24). Lyme Disease. Mayo Clinic.
Onyett, H. and Canadian Paediatric Society, Infectious Diseases and Immunization Committee. (2014, June). Preventing Mosquito and Tick Bites: A Canadian Update. NIH National Library of Medicine- National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4173961/