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Avoid Ticks On and Off the Trail

Image courtesy of CDC.

Avoid ticks and prevent tick bites. Search for ticks on your body after being outside, especially in wooded and grassy areas.

As someone who spends their time outdoors, you've heard this advice before, but it bears repeating.

I was reminded of how important regular, thorough tick searches are when we discovered an engorged tick on my preschooler's head. The tick, which had been feasting in various spots for days, was promptly removed with tweezers from our first aid kit.

In addition to Lyme Disease, there are a number of other infections ticks can pass on. Since my daughter's tick had been on her for more than 48 hours, she ended up on antiobiotics as a preventative measure.

To avoid spending your holiday calling up your doctor, follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's advice below for Preventing Tick Bites.

Avoid Direct Contact with Ticks

  • Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter. (When hiking wear a hat, long pants tucked into socks or boots, and a long-sleeved shirt tucked into your pants.)
  • Walk in the center of trails. (Ticks can't fly or jump, but they will wait on the ends of grasses and shrubs for you to brush against them.)

Repel Ticks with DEET or Permethrin

  • Use repellents that contain 20 percent or more DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) on the exposed skin for protection that lasts up to several hours. Always follow product instructions. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding hands, eyes, and mouth.
  • Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks, and tents. It remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available and remains protective for up to 70 washings.
  • Other repellents registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) may be found at

Find and Remove Ticks from Your Body

  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.
  • Conduct a full-body tick check using a handheld or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon return from tick-infested areas. Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in their hair. (My daughter's tick started behind her ear and was well hidden in her hair when we found it.)
  • Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and packs. Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks.
  • Learn how to remove a tick if you do find one and what types are found where.

For more info: CDC's All About Ticks section


I feel like I missed some big announcement about ticks while I was down in Patagonia. I haven't watched or really listened to the news, but I've heard a bunch of tick identification and removal things on WCLZ since I've gotten back.

I've had Lyme disease at least twice now.  June is bad month, as the nymph ticks emerge, are smaller than mature ticks, and can have a higher load of lyme spirochetes than mature ticks.  I use permethrin on a set of gaiters that I soak down every year.  I've wondered lately about rubbing some wax on them too - to prevent ticks from getting hold of the fabric.

The irony is that I stood there and read the entire "Beware of ticks" literature, complete with pictures, at the trailhead kiosk in Maine on Thursday, but we still didn't find the tick until Monday in Vermont.

I even had WCLZ on the radio, but must have missed their PSA's.

There has been some maternal guilt on this matter.

One note: the Blacklegged Tick is also known in much of the country as the Deer Tick.

  For those of us in the Southeast, the CDC's suggestion to  "Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter" is a veritable impossibility, as there are virtually no backcountry trails in the region which don't proceed through thick leafy plants, grass, and dry leaves. 

Due to growing up in an area with a real tick problem, I have become hyper sensitive to the feeling of ticks crawling on my skin, even in their nearly microscopic nymph size. I hate the little buggers.  

I hear you gonzan. I am hyper sensitive too, which has helped me out for the most part. However, sometimes I get a little paranoid about ticks and every little thing feels like one is crawling on my skin.

humble_67 said:

and every little thing feels like one is crawling on my skin.

 Yeah, if I have felt and removed a couple already I then constantly  I think I feel them even when there isn't one :) 

"Tick Check" kinda fun..

After a day of working in the backyard late last month, Gretchin came over and asked me to look at a bump on the back of her neck right at the hairline.....not a bump so much as a tick.  Let me tell you what, if I had used only tweezers, that little booger would have came out without a head.  Had to go to the doctor and he used tweezers and a heated metal element to burn and pull him out.  As a famous Governor once said...he was "dug in like an Alabama tick"....LOL

gonzan said:

  For those of us in the Southeast, the CDC's suggestion to  "Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter" is a veritable impossibility, as there are virtually no backcountry trails in the region which don't proceed through thick leafy plants, grass, and dry leaves. 

 This reminds me of the little booklet I got with an old Mt Hardwear tent and it said something like:  "Do not leave in direct sunlight.  Do not set up this tent under trees.  Do not set up on low ground with the possibility of flooding."

They should instead have a bright orange tag sewn onto the tent somewhere that reads "NEVER USE!" and be done with it.

Great article many thanks

Hahah,, that is so true Tipi.

Speaking of ticks - today I was on the Saint Croix river trail north of Taylors Falls, MN. Not five minutes after we started, I looked down at my pants. There were 8-10 ticks (deer and dog ticks) climbing on me. My uncle and friend looked down as well to find the same thing. After picking them off, I remembered this article and proceeded to heed the advice. I tucked my pants into my socks, tucked my shirt in, and put on an extra layer of 100 DEET. Surprisingly, even after wiping deet all over my pants, I still had tons of ticks latching on down the trail (not as many though). I really need to get some of that permethin.

After hiking for 3 hours and returning to the vehicle, we did a full strip down of our clothing and backpacks. I must of pulled 30-40 ticks off my pants, another 20+ off my socks and boots, and a couple off my shirt. I had on a pair of convertible hiking pants, and when I lifted up the fabric where they zip, I found it packed with ticks up in that crease against the zipper. None had latched on to my skin, and I believe these tips in the article made all the difference.

Needless to say, June is NOT the best time to go hiking along the Wisconsin/Minnesota border. After googling Lyme Disease, I saw that we hiked in one of the worst areas for Lyme disease cases. That explains why there was no one else on the trail!

Wow, that's a lot of ticks, humble! I'm feeling itchy thinking about all of them...

Thanks for letting us know that the article was helpful for you. It's always nice to hear when information on the site and from our community helps our fellow members.

They may not fly or jump, but they definitely FALL from trees. Permethrin works well.

They forgot to say, "Whack the bushes and grass with your hiking stick to knock them off in front of you."  I carry a snake stick to check for rattlers when the weather is warm enough for reptiles to be out and it works well for ticks also.  One or two will still get on me though.  Wearing light colored clothing makes them eassier to see when they do.

Great article and great comments. Ticks are more of a threat to most people's health than the larger wildlife many people worry more about.

Recently I was walking a broad paved biking trail at twilight (Virginia in June), had to cut quickly across about 250-300 feet of off-trail thigh high grass, and despite moving fast I came out with over 200 ticks on me, some already on my neck and heading for my hairline (fast crawlers). No exaggeration: 12-15 off each arm, 20 off each shoe and sock, about 50 off my shirt, about 60 off my jeans, and kept finding new ones after I thought I'd gotten them all off. Lots of tiny ones hiding in the seams biding their time. Those I flicked to the ground would immediately crawl back towards my shoes to get back aboard, so remember not to stand still long when 'de-ticking'. Impossible to see them all in the dark and sure enough I brought a number home on me. I read later that dryers take at least an hour to kill them; washing machines don't faze them at all and they don't drown.

It's an old wive's tale that you can 'suffocate' them into detaching once attached. I tried covering them in vaseline to get them off; did not work; various other home remedies did not faze them either (rubbing alcohol had no effect). Tough critters. If one quick cut through 300 feet of random park grass yielded 200+ ticks imagine how many zillions must be in any/every acre of grass, all patiently waiting for you. Ticks don't live in trees; they climb trees so they can drop on you (or a deer) in the split second you pass beneath; very intelligently involved of them. So I went to the local weekend clinic, covered in fresh inflamed bites but had to really insist to get antibiotics; mr. doc-in-a-box would have been just as happy to send me off untreated. When I told my regular doc, a horsey gal, she said med schools give little or no time to backwoodsy issues like ticks and there is no seminar industry around ticks and Lymes', and if there's no big money in promoting an issue modern doctors are unlikely to know much about it.

So: ticks are ingeniously evolved for what they do, and patient and persistent, and they behave with intelligence. They are heat seekers and sense noise and vibration at great distance so they know when you're coming and 'see' your heat signature. They can crawl as fast as any ant and definitely do drop from trees onto you as you pass below--imagine the judgement and timing that requires. Clever buggers. They do stalk their 'prey'--they will find their way into tent openings etc (heat seeking). They will happily climb on when you sit down on a stump or a patch of grass. In season the grass is crawling with them. Often doctors (especially those with indoor lifestyles) are not as educated about ticks as they could/should be. Lyme disease untreated is serious stuff with worsening consequences the longer it goes untreated; eventually it can't be treated at all.

The points about ticks feeding in one spot then moving to another to continue feeding (instead of 'dropping off once full') is very true. +1 to ticks coming into the household on clothing or equipment or pets, then finding you later.  Get all the ticks off you before you get into your vehicle or they WILL find you later. +1 to permethrin (REI) and deet. Saturating a broad brimmed hat with either will give some protection to ticks dropping from trees or waiting on an overhanging branch. There are good reason why our ancestors used to go around in long sleeves and hats and why every army used to issue infantry gaiters (some still do).

Get the right tweezers; most drugstore tweezers are for plucking unwanted hair, exactly the wrong shape for tick removal; they're so broad they can only grip and squash the tick's body, so you are manually forcing its germs into your bloodstream while you're removing it. Instead get pointed fine tweezers, points almost like needles, tiny enough to grasp the 'neck' instead of the body. Search 'tweezers with magnifying lens" (handy), $4-$5 on eBay. Some models have mini-lights as well as lens, handy for night removal. Skip the plastic spoon-shaped notched  'tick remover' in stores; useless junk. 

Didn't start out to write a Wikipedia, but it's worth it if it saves someone grief or Lyme's in this thread as well as future topic searches. There's a lot of misinformation out there. Ticks are better adapted to get on us than we are to get them off or keep them off. 

Welcome to Trailspace, Tallahassee.

It would be curious to see a study done that accurately determines how many ticks are present in an average acre of grass, woods, field, etc.

As to avaod making some people terified for the rest of their lives of grass, it is definitely not very common to "acquire" hundreds of ticks in one spot like that. It is almost certain that you happened to walk accross one or more spots were a whole brood of nymphs had just hatched, and were there in extraordinarily high numbers. I have had almost the same thing happen before- I brushed up against a small tree sappling, and instantly had hundres of the nearly microscopic buggers on me. I realized immediately and found the offending plant. I was astonished that there were literally about a thousand of the clamouring out at the tips of the plant waiting to hitch a ride. These "hatchings" do happen, but to encounter then before they have dispersed is an infrequent thing.


Thanks for all the comments above.

What I find interesting is that a Lyme Disease vaccine was developed and then discontinued nearly a decade ago, due to several factors:

From the CDC:

Lyme disease (LD) is transmitted to humans by the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. The vaccine for Lyme disease is no longer available. It was discontinued by the manufacturer in 2002, citing low demand. People who were previously vaccinated with the LD vaccine are no longer protected. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics. Steps to prevent Lyme disease include using insect repellent, removing ticks promptly, landscaping, and integrated pest management.

Wikipedia gets into the cause of the low consumer demand, which is a bit murky, but can lead one to believe it was unjustified. Who knows though?

A recombinant vaccine against Lyme disease, based on the outer surface protein A (OspA) of B. burgdorferi, was developed by GlaxoSmithKline. In clinical trials involving more than 10,000 people, the vaccine, called LYMErix, was found to confer protective immunity to Borrelia in 76% of adults and 100% of children with only mild or moderate and transient adverse effects.[107] LYMErix was approved on the basis of these trials by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on December 21, 1998.

Following approval of the vaccine, its entry in clinical practice was slow for a variety of reasons, including its cost, which was often not reimbursed by insurance companies.[108] Subsequently, hundreds of vaccine recipients reported they had developed autoimmune side effects. Supported by some patient advocacy groups, a number of class-action lawsuits were filed against GlaxoSmithKline, alleging the vaccine had caused these health problems. These claims were investigated by the FDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), who found no connection between the vaccine and the autoimmune complaints.[109]

Despite the lack of evidence that the complaints were caused by the vaccine, sales plummeted and LYMErix was withdrawn from the U.S. market by GlaxoSmithKline in February 2002,[110] in the setting of negative media coverage and fears of vaccine side effects.[109][111] The fate of LYMErix was described in the medical literature as a "cautionary tale";[111] an editorial in Nature cited the withdrawal of LYMErix as an instance in which "unfounded public fears place pressures on vaccine developers that go beyond reasonable safety considerations."[112] The original developer of the OspA vaccine at the Max Planck Institute told Nature: "This just shows how irrational the world can be... There was no scientific justification for the first OspA vaccine LYMErix being pulled."[109]

New vaccines are being researched using outer surface protein C (OspC) and glycolipoprotein as methods of immunization.[113][114] Vaccines are available for dogs

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