Deer ticks can carry Lyme Disease and Powassan Virus, and mosquitoes can carry West Nile Virus. Both are prevalent in New Jersey, as well as many areas of the US, and just as easily picked up in a yard as on the trail. Both are avoidable if you take a few simple precautions.
Ticks and Lyme Disease Fast Facts
- Lyme Disease Foundation – tick identification, video on how to properly remove a tick, photo of Lyme rash, tons of info
- Lyme Disease risk area map
- Always check yourself for ticks after a hike (or even just working in your yard) – even places that were covered with clothing…the little buggers crawl ALL over and will seek out the warmest spot on your body. Especially check the back of the knee, groin, navel, armpit, ears, and nape of the neck.
- Use bug spray on exposed skin and stay away from brush and tall grass. Long pants and shirt are best, but not always practical in really warm weather. A product with DEET, like Deep Woods Off, is usually recommended as the best, but there are other alternatives (see below).
- Nymphal deer ticks are the size of poppy seeds; adult deer ticks are the size of apple seeds. [View photos of ticks]
- Deer ticks are active when the temperature is above 45° F
- Got an attached tick? Use fine-tipped tweezers to firmly grasp the tick very close to your skin. With a steady motion, pull the tick’s body away from your skin. Then clean your skin with soap and warm water. Don’t use petroleum jelly, a hot match, nail polish, or other products to remove a tick… these are old folk remedies that risk further infection.
[CDC – How to remove a tick] [LDF – How to remove a tick]
- If you discover a deer tick attached to your skin that has not yet become engorged, it has not been there long enough to transmit the disease. Nevertheless, it is advisable to be alert in case any symptoms do appear; a red rash (especially surrounding the tick bite), flu-like symptoms, or joint pains in the first month following any deer tick bite could signal the onset of LD [Lyme Disease Foundation]
- Not all ticks are infected, and studies have shown that they begin transmitting Lyme disease an average of 36 to 48 hours after attachment. [Lyme Disease Foundation]
- Symptoms of Lyme Disease and Tips to Avoid Ticks [Source: Backpacker Magazine, June 2006]
- Lyme Disease and Dogs – Outside Magazine, April 2014
Powassan Virus – Another tick-borne disease
- Prevention is the same as any Lyme disease.
- Very rare but can be life threatening.
- Many people bitten by Powassan infected ticks won’t get sick or have symptoms. Half the people who do get sick end up with permanent symptoms, such as chronic headaches, muscle loss, memory problems. Can also cause encephalitis and meningitis.
- What is the Powassan virus (and should you worry)? [Source: MNN May 2017]
- West Nile Virus Fact Sheet – from Centers for Disease Control
- West Nile Virus area map [Source: USGS, 2010 data]
- Use bug spray, wear long pants/shirt as above.
- Tip: Spray your hat instead of directly on your face. Keeps the mosquitoes at bay without risking getting chemicals in your eyes/nose/mouth.
- West Nile Symptoms – 80% of cases don’t have any, while some experience symptoms such as fever, headache, and body aches, nausea, vomiting, and sometimes swollen lymph glands or a skin rash on the chest, stomach and back.
- Milder West Nile Virus improves on its own, and people do not necessarily need to seek medical attention for this infection though they may choose to do so.
- If you develop symptoms of severe WNV illness, such as unusually severe headaches or confusion, seek medical attention immediately.
- DEET – Most historically effective bug spray and is considered safe by the CDC… however, it smells terrible, can cause skin irritation in some people, and sometimes damages plastic or clothing. There is no question DEET is very effective, it just kind of feels like chemicals are seeping into your pores. Found in products like Off! Deep Woods (which is 25% DEET – each formulation varies, check the package)
- Picaridin – A good alternative to DEET; found in OFF! Clean Feel and others. Lighter scent and feel. We’ve had decent results with this spray, but it needs to be reapplied every 3-4 hours.
- Lemon Eucalyptus – Plant based, natural alternative used in products like Repel or Cutter. We’ve used lemon eucalyptus products for short trail runs with good results; haven’t tested it on longer hikes. (Instead of smelling like a chemical factory, you will smell like lemon Pledge – you can decide if that’s better or worse!)
- Permethrin – Garments can be treated with this so the bug protection is right in the fabric. Lasts for a certain number of washes. Brands like ExOfficio make hats, pants, and shirts or there are permethrin sprays available to treat clothing yourself.
- NOTE: Permethrin is toxic to cats, so stay clear of using it if you have kitties in your household. It is supposed to be toxic when wet, but OK when dry – up to you if you want to still use it.
- Detailed article on “How to Choose Insect Repellent“.
- Buy a small size bottle or transfer liquid bug spray into a travel-size spray bottle and seal in a zip-loc baggie – less bulky to tote in a backpack than the larger bottle it comes in.
- Don’t spray directly to your face! Spray your hat or a cotton bandana and tie around your neck. Keeps the mosquitoes at bay without risking getting chemicals in your eyes/nose/mouth.
- Sunscreen/Bug Spray combo products – are not recommended because they need to be applied at different frequencies.
- For max effectiveness: apply sunscreen first, then bug repellent.
- DEET can destroy synthetic fabrics. We’ve always heard this but never have actually had any problems, this blog actually tested it: “DEET Dissolves Breathable Fabrics: Experimental Results“.
- Mosquitoes/bugs are thwarted by a slight breeze… so it it’s breezy or you keep moving the chances of being bit are lessened… but you still need protection.