With spring quickly approaching, the promise of sunny days and warmer weather is enough to get anyone excited about swapping the winter coats for T-shirts and shorts. By the time March 21 rolls around, the ability to go for a hike through the woods is high on the priority list of many outdoor enthusiasts. But warm weather comes with a few downsides, too. The answer to “Is spring the beginning of tick season?” is an unfortunate yes.
There are many risks associated with exposure to a tick bite, but there’s no need to avoid the things you love to do. Avoiding tick bites and Lyme disease is possible! Here’s how to protect yourself from ticks.
What are ticks?
Ticks are categorized as arachnids and are small in size, ranging from three to five millimeters depending on the stage of their life. They are often referred to as parasites because of how they feed to survive. Ticks need to feed on the blood of a live animal or human, and do so by attaching themselves onto their living host by digging their teeth into the skin.
Ticks reside in wooded areas, thriving especially in areas where the weather is warm and humid because their metamorphosis requires a certain level of air moisture. In colder areas, they are unable to lay eggs and reproduce.
A tick bite isn’t dangerous on its own, but if the tick is infected with Lyme disease, it certainly can be. So what is Lyme disease, exactly?
What is Lyme disease?
Lyme disease is a tick-borne illness caused by the Borrelia bacteria. When an infected tick feasts on an animal or person, the bacteria is transferred into the host via the bloodstream. When it enters the body, it makes its way to all the tissues, organs, and systems to set up shop and do significant damage.
The bacteria can cause lasting damage to the body, and may lead to many serious health complications. Lyme disease is hard to diagnose because of its ability to mimic other conditions, especially if left untreated for a long period of time.
What are the symptoms of Lyme disease?
The first signs of Lyme disease are generally mild and can include a bullseye rash at the site of the tick bite, flu-like symptoms, muscle and joint aches, and fever. When the disease progresses, the symptoms become more severe and can include neurological deficits such as memory issues and problems with concentration, arthritis, nervous system damage, heart palpitations, and widespread inflammation.
It’s important to know the signs and symptoms, especially following time spent in a wooded area. The earlier that Lyme disease is diagnosed, the easier it is to treat. If you think you’ve been infected, it’s important to note symptoms and get tested. To test for Lyme disease, a doctor will take a blood sample in order to determine whether or not Lyme disease antigens are present in the bloodstream.
When is the beginning of tick season?
As mentioned above, ticks need a certain type of climate to thrive. That climate occurs in the United States and Canada around the spring and summer months. Nymphs are generally more active in the early spring/summer seasons because when the weather warms up, ticks that have been dormant during the winter months need to feed. Adult ticks tend to be more of a threat in late fall as they prepare for dormancy.
Nymphs are the most dangerous type of tick, thus spring and summer become the months in which the risk of contracting a tick-borne illness such as Lyme disease is the highest. When the weather drops below freezing, tick activity will halt until the spring thaw arrives, so the dangers of being bitten by an infected tick in the winter are significantly lower in climates that don’t have warm year-round weather conditions.
How to protect yourself from ticks
The best way to prevent a tick bite is to avoid areas where infected ticks have been confirmed to live. But for those who love the outdoors and still want to get out there, avoiding tick bites comes down to three main strategies.
The first is to choose the right clothing and wear it properly to avoid exposure. Loose-fitting, light-colored clothing is the best bet because it will eliminate the amount of skin exposed, thus taking away any opportunity for a tick to latch on.
The second step is to use a bug spray that contains DEET (diethyltoluamide) to deter ticks from biting you. The third way is to ensure the proper checks are made following a trip to an infected area. Examining the body, especially the armpits, scalp, and legs, will help to identify whether a bite has occurred, thus prompting the proper testing and treatment early on. Showering or taking a bath directly following an outdoor excursion can also help to dislodge any ticks that may still be feeding on you.
The bottom line
Protecting yourself and your family against ticks is easy to do when you know the tricks. The second-best way to avoid any complications from Lyme disease or another tick-borne illness is to make sure that if a bite is present, it is evaluated right away.
You don’t need to avoid the best summer hikes or your favorite wooded areas just because ticks might be there. Protecting yourself will go a long way toward helping you enjoying the warm weather of the spring and summer months without having to worry about contracting Lyme disease.