The number of Americans who have contracted insect-borne illnesses from ticks, mosquitos, and fleas are at an all-time high, with cases having tripled across the country in the past few years. Obviously, this decidedly not-fun factoid isn’t the most pleasant to have in the back of your mind every time you go on a restorative hike. If you do get bit by a tick, though, it doesn’t have to spell bad news for your health—just be aware of the possibility, and be ready to take action.
While mosquitos and fleas are one thing, ticks are especially scary: They carry everything from Lyme disease and Heartland virus to Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Babesiosis. And if you’re an avid outdoorswoman, the creepy-crawlies are especially tough to avoid since they tend to prey in wooded and grassy areas, whether it’s on bushes, under decomposing leaves, or even in gardens. After spending time outside (even if you’re rocking long sleeves, pants, and a hat!), do a thorough check of your clothes and entire body, making sure to focus on the areas the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says they tend to hide: in your hair, in and around your ears, under your arms, in your belly button, between your legs, and on the back of your knees. And if you find one, well, it’s time for battle.
Instead of crushing an extracted tick, flush it down the toilet or wrap it tightly in tape, so there’s no chance it’ll come back for a second helping.
The first step is removing the tick, and doing it properly is key. According to the CDC, that means never ripping it out with your fingers. Instead, grab a pair of tweezers and hold onto the tick as close to your skin as possible, pulling it straight out. Then clean the area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. The disposal of the tick is also important so it doesn’t bite you (or anyone else!) ever again. Instead of crushing it, flush it down the toilet or wrap it tightly in tape, so there’s no chance it’ll come back for a second helping.
While the tick is no longer attached to your body, you still have to be wary of the health conditions with which it may have infected you. Checking for any warning signs—like a rash or fever—days and weeks after the bite. And keep in mind that ticks can bite without attaching to your body, so regularly scan yourself for small red marks as well. If you do notice something, seek out a doc immediately. Because when it comes to the disease-carrying pests, it’s best to get ahead of potential illnesses before they wreaks havoc on your body.
While the thought of a tick making you its next meal is slightly terrifying, don’t stop enjoying your regularly scheduled seasonal programming. As long as you’re smart about the time you spend outdoors and do diligent body scans afterward, you can safely ensure the bloodsuckers don’t get you down.
Here are five natural bug sprays to will help you stay bite-free this summer. Or, check out the six lies the internet tells you when you google your symptoms.
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