As many of you hopefully know by now, our culture seems to be infatuated with obscenely large portions of food. Supersized meals, lattes the size of a human head, and the looming tryptophan coma that most Americans will experience later this month are all evidence of this pervasive lifestyle. Over-indulgence in food is a topic that has received a large amount of media attention in the last decade, most of which is fairly depressing.
But take heart. There is a silver lining, which happens to be the fact that we are not the worst offenders. That’s right, humans take second place in this twisted battle, to none other than our tiny nemeses – TICKS!
So you’re a runner. And you may be wondering – are these gluttonous pests actually a threat to me? Ask yourself a few questions. Do you ever run on trails, in fields, in bushy or wooded areas? In sand or near a river? Do you run or walk with a dog in these areas? Or share a living space with someone that does? If your answer is yes to any of these, then keep reading.
Aside from the fact that they gorge themselves on a regular basis, there are a few basics that you should know about ticks. First of all, their binge meal of choice is blood (hopefully, after reading this, it won’t be yours). Ticks survive by hematophagy, the removal and consumption of blood from mammals, reptiles and birds. Yes, this is why mankind shudders at the idea of a tick on the skin – before you know it, the tick won’t just be on your skin, but inside of it, feasting happily away. Secondly, ticks are widely distributed across the world and tend to thrive in warm, moist environments. There are many (nearly 900!) species of ticks, but only a few varieties are a cause for concern, as most tend to feed on birds and rarely on land mammals or humans.
What exactly, you may ask, is the tick’s purpose in life? Great question – it’s doubtful the tick even knows the answer. It appears that these seemingly malicious invaders exist only to feed, propagate their species, and unknowingly pass on disease from one meal source to the next. And this lifestyle of ignorance is exactly why you should have a healthy (not paranoid, but healthy) fear of ticks. A tick under the skin is decisively annoying, but a diseased tick under the skin could prove to be a legitimate danger. Diseases that are commonly transmitted by ticks include, but are not limited to, Babiosisos, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia, Ehrlichiosis, and Lyme Disease.
Though ticks may be ignorant of the harm they cause, they are not stupid when it comes to finding their next meal. While “questing”, they often perch near the edge of a well-traveled path with their first pair of legs outstretched, waiting to climb aboard a host. Ticks have an uncanny sense of when a meal is approaching, meaning that they have the ability to track mammals through the gasses they emit, such as CO2, sensing body heat, moisture and vibrations. Once a tick is safely on board, he will either attach quickly or he will wander for a few hours, searching for a place where the skin is thin, such as behind the ear or on the stomach. Once he has located a comfortable spot, the tick will create a small incision in the skin, on occasion releasing a small amount of anesthetic to numb the victim, and insert his feeding tube. Once all of this takes place, the feast begins. And goes on. And on, and on….up to several days!
So how do you, the innocent victim, avoid this nasty string of events? There are several precautions that you can take to lower your risk of being a tick’s next meal.
- Avoid. While traipsing outdoors, try to avoid walking in areas with high bushes, tall grasses and leaf litter. Run in the center of trails, and be aware of environments that may potentially have a high tick density.
- Repel. Using products that have 20 – 30% DEET content will help to keep the little buggers away.
- Repel MORE. Treat clothing and gear with products that contain permethrin; it will aid in keeping ticks off of your apparel and accessories.
- Check, rinse, and check again. Check your skin, clothing, gear and pet(s) for ticks as soon as you get off of the trail. If you have a friend with you, employ their help. Go home and shower immediately, then check the skin again. Pay special attention to the underarms, in and around the ears, hair, inside of the belly button, behind the knees, and the waist.
- Heat. And just for good measure…Tumble dry your clothes in a dryer to kill any remaining ticks.
While all of the above steps are a great place to start, what is one to do if a tiny little tick sneaks past this thorough investigation? If, say, the invasion has already begun? Here are a few steps to follow for at-home tick removal.
- Use tweezers to grab the tick as close to the surface of the skin as possible.
- Pull upward with a steady pressure, being careful not to twist or jerk. Doing so can cause pieces of the tick to remain under the skin. If this happens, use the tweezers to remove any remaining pieces, if it can be done safely.
- After removing all of the tick, clean the area with soap and water, rubbing alcohol, or an iodine scrub.
- Kill the tick. Do this by wrapping it tightly in tape, submersing it in alcohol, flushing it down the toilet, or placing it in a sealed bag. Do not attempt to crush the tick with your fingers (you probably won’t be able to anyhow).
Lastly, but certainly not least, if you have been bitten by a tick and see a rash or any other symptoms develop in the weeks following, see your doctor immediately. It is a good idea to keep track of where the bite was, approximately how long the tick had been feeding, the type of tick that you were bitten by, and the geographic area the tick inhabited prior to being on your body.
While all of this information is clearly helpful for keeping humans in good health (and a sane state of mind), what of the ticks? Well, let’s look at it this way – by keeping our blood-sucking friends from getting under our skin, we are pushing back against the epidemic of gluttony, one tick at a time. So here’s to healthier runners, and maybe even, healthier ticks.