Friday, May 30, 2008

Don’t let a tick make you sick

Hiking. Gardening. Exploring nature. While enjoying the great outdoors this summer, savor the sunshine and s'mores, but be sure to guard against a little traveler looking for a free ride and a cheap meal: the tick.

May, June and July are prime months for tick bites. This eight-legged arachnid — not an insect, but a member of the scorpion, spider and mite family — is often found in or near wooded areas. It attaches itself to another animal or human by dropping from its perch or grabbing on when brushed up against in tall grass or shrubs and sucks the blood of its host. A tick bite may transmit one of a number of common diseases, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia. That’s why it’s important to be extra careful.

The best way to protect yourself from tick-related illness is to avoid tick bites, so here are a few tips when you suspect ticks are in the area:

*Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants.
*Pull your socks over your pant legs — apologies to the fashion conscious among you — to prevent them from climbing up your legs.
*Tuck your shirt into your pants.
*Apply bug spray with 20 percent DEET to your clothes and to any skin not protected by clothing, but do not spray skin underneath clothes.
*Wear light colors. It’s much easier to spot a tick that way.
*Walk in the middle of the trail to avoid woods, tall grass, bushes and piles of leaves.
*Check your clothes for ticks before going indoors. Wash clothes with hot water and dry them on high for one hour or more if you find a tick on you.
*Check your skin for ticks after being outside.

And what if you find a tick? Don’t panic. Here are some steps to follow:

*Remove the tick with very fine tweezers, grabbing the tick close to the skin.
*Wear gloves or use a tissue to protect yourself from tick juices.
*Slowly pull the tick straight up, checking to see that there's nothing left of the tick in the skin.
*Wash your hands thoroughly or use a hand sanitizer.
*Disinfect the tick bite area with an antiseptic.
*In the next few weeks, watch for fever, headache, fatigue or rash.
*If one of the above symptoms appears, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Last but not least, don't forget to check pets for ticks. Not only can ticks pose harm to your pets, but your pets can also carry ticks into your home. Learn more about ticks and how to prevent diseases spread by ticks on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Web site.

Enjoy your walk in the woods, but don't let a tick make you sick.

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