We’ve been warned every year to take caution as ticks flourish with the warmer temperatures. But really, how cautious are you? Do you simply do a self-check when you get home? Or maybe you take some preventative measures like tucking your pants into your boots or wear tick repellent gear while you’re out in the woods.
Back when I first started hunting, ticks were a concern, but the most common tick found was the wood tick. Sure, we would find them on us, but the only worry was that we removed the head from under our skin to avoid infection. In recent years, growing in numbers since the mid-1970s, the deer tick has become more prevalent in the Midwest and Northeast. I can remember hearing about the “bull’s-eye” around a tick bite back in the late-80’s, and if seen, you should seek immediate medical attention. It just did not seem all that common to hear about someone getting bit who had the “bull’s-eye”, and if someone did, it was from the northern part of the state (WI). Fast forward to today…..how many of you know of someone who has Lyme? Maybe even someone’s dog? I personally know of 5 people and 3 dogs who have contracted Lyme within the last 2 years alone.
Deer ticks, the vector of Lyme disease, are carrying the disease at higher rates and are continuing to increase their exposure rates to humans as deer populations swell into suburban areas.
Not every deer tick carries the bacteria that causes Lyme, but the growing number of deer ticks will only increase the number of ticks carrying it. I generally do not get too scared about things I can contract, what can bite me, or anything else Mother Nature has up her sleeve to make me ill. However, I’ve seen firsthand what Lyme can do and I want no part of it if I can help it. Since the diagnosis is often mistreated due to no known 100% reliable test for Lyme, patients are often misdiagnosed with things such as the flu or other flu-like illnesses. Therefore, the number of confirmed Lyme disease cases is far lower than what it actually is. Two of the five people I know that have Lyme have been bedridden for over a year, have lost their jobs, and have seen countless doctors with little if any help.
Watching and listening to these stories is heart-wrenching. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel did a story a couple of years ago on a man who unfortunately has a severe case of Lyme and details his story, but also presents some staggering statistics about the growing number of Lyme cases in Wisconsin. The stories are the same where deer ticks live in other states.
The good news is that you can better avoid this disease by taking a few easy steps towards prevention before heading outside.
As per Mayo Clinic Recommendations:
1) Wear long pants and long sleeves. When walking in wooded or grassy areas, wear shoes, long pants tucked into your socks, a long-sleeved shirt, a hat and gloves. Try to stick to trails and avoid walking through low bushes and long grass. Keep your dog on a leash.
(Sounds like great advice…except if you’re hunting! There’s no telling what kind of habitat you’ll be trenching through while chasing a wild turkey, so sticking to trails is probably not an option. Just be sure to do a thorough tick check after the hunt.) – a note from Legendary Whitetails.
2) Use insect repellent. Apply an insect repellent with a 20 percent or higher concentration of DEET to your skin. Parents should apply to their children, avoiding their hands, eyes and mouth. Keep in mind that chemical repellents can be toxic, so follow directions carefully. Apply products with permethrin to clothing or buy pretreated clothing.
3) Do your best to tick-proof your yard. Keep your grass cut. Clear brush and leaves where ticks live. Keep woodpiles in sunny areas.
4) Check yourself, your children, and your pets for ticks. Be especially vigilant after spending time in wooded or grassy areas. Deer ticks are often no bigger than the head of a pin, so you may not discover them unless you search carefully. It’s helpful to shower as soon as you come indoors. Ticks often remain on your skin for hours before attaching themselves. Showering and using a washcloth may be enough to remove any unattached ticks.
5) Don’t assume you’re immune. Even if you’ve had Lyme disease before, you can get it again.
6) Remove a tick as soon as possible with tweezers or a tick puller. Gently grasp the tick near its head or mouth. Don’t squeeze or crush the tick, but pull carefully and steadily. Once you’ve removed the entire tick, dispose of it and apply antiseptic to the bite area.
Even if you have checked yourself for ticks once, check again the next day. Within 24 hours of being bitten by a deer tick with Lyme, a rash will form and you still have time to get treated. Good luck to all fellow turkey and morel mushroom hunters and stay safe!