by Diane Spicer
Two words for the connection between tick bites and Lyme disease:
It's a mouthful, alright, and it's the reason tick bites and Lyme disease are associated.
Borrelia is the type of bacteria which causes Lyme disease (borreliosis).
But how does this bacteria get into your bloodstream to make you sick?
It has a little help.
And by "little", I mean a tiny deer tick the size of a sesame seed, infected with the bacteria.
And that's why you want to prevent tick bites (best case scenario) or safely remove an engorged tick (2nd best, and requires surveillance of the bite area for several weeks).
Let's talk about prevention first. You don't want to let a tiny thing like a tick prevent you from getting into the outdoors, do you?
There are four strategies you can use to increase your odds that you won't be bitten by a wood tick during your spring or summer hikes.
Know whether/not the area you will be hiking in is a hot spot for ticks.
Geography and season are key.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has some information to help with that.
Here's how to dress defensively.
Permethrin (long lasting on boots and clothing ) and DEET (must be reapplied frequently to skin) are recommended repellents.
I have my doubts about their long term safety, especially with children. I've used NEEM oil and other plant based repellents in the past with good results.
After your hike, do a tick check ALL over using a full length mirror and a hand held mirror.
Sooner or later, despite all of your precautions, you may find a wood tick embedded in your skin.
Instead, use these steps to minimize the chances of a localized infection or Lyme disease.
Wash the bite area thoroughly with soap and water.
Monitor the site for the next 30 days for the development of a flat red rash that begins at the bite mark and spreads in a circular pattern (erythema migrans, literally "red moving").
If you experience any of these things, head to a doctor's office for a blood test.
Be sure to mention that you've been in the outdoors recently, even if it was just mowing the long grass in your own backyard.
I must be the bearer of bad news.
Tick bites and Lyme disease are not your only worry on a densely wooded or grassy hiking trail.
Ticks can also transmit other diseases to humans, including these:
As with Lyme disease, geography matters in terms of your risk of exposure to these pathogens.
Using the suggestions for limiting the chances of contact with ticks is absolutely the way to go for hikers who are serious about avoiding tick borne diseases.
You might also want to consider altering your seasonal hiking plans to avoid long grass, hiking trails that aren't brushed out, or sitting on logs and stumps beneath the tree canopy.
Don't despair, just take precautionary measures and make a thorough whole body tick check after a hike part of your regular trail routine.
For more safety tips on the hiking trail, go here.
Tick Bites and Lyme Disease
About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She’s been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for nearly five decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
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Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.
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