Ticks carry a wide range of bacteria, viruses, and parasites in their saliva, which the little blood suckers can pass along to you should you be unlucky enough to host one for a meal.
Tick-related illnesses, which include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Anaplasmosis, can cause a host of maladies including fever, headache, fatigue, and joint and muscle aches and can be serious, lasting, and even deadly. Now researchers in China and the University of Maryland School of Medicine have identified a new tick-borne disease they’ve named Anaplasma capra or A. capra, which is Latin for goat, the animal most commonly infected in China. When researchers there tested 477 people who’d been bitten by a tick over a four-week period in spring of 2014, six percent of them were infected by this newly discovered bacteria.
Currently, the disease appears to only be present in Eastern Europe and Asia where the taiga tick—a relative to the deer tick, which is common in the US—is prevalent. But the finding has drawn attention to the fact that we’re still discovering diseases these vectors can transmit and we should guard ourselves against the growing risks.
“Lyme disease is increasing in numbers and where it’s found geographically because of milder winters in certain locations and an expanding deer population,” says Alan G. Barbour, MD, a co-discoverer of the cause of Lyme disease and author of Lyme Disease: Why It’s Spreading, How It Makes You Sick, and What To Do About It. We’ve also found some new tick-borne bacterial diseases of our own in recent years, says Barbour, who is also a professor of medicine and microbiology at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine. “Borrelia miyamotoi, which can cause recurring fevers, was only discovered in humans in the US in the past several years.”
Barbour doesn’t see an effective vaccine becoming available anytime soon, but is optimistic about the future of treatment, which he believes is improving as people are identified and treated earlier. “Most people do very well with antibiotic treatment,” he says.
That said, prevention is always the best cure. Here’s how to enjoy your favorite trails or back country roads without picking up these unwanted disease carriers—and what to do if one hitches a ride out with you.
Ticks can’t fly, jump, or even run. They hang out on leaves, blades, and branches waiting for something to brush by, so they can cling on and catch a meal. When hiking or biking in the woods, if you keep to the center of the trail or road and avoid bushwhacking and brushing up against high grasses or other vegetation, your risk of picking up a parasitic passenger is pretty low. Once you leave the trail for a pit stop, however, the risk raises exponentially. “The danger may be in sitting down,” says Barbour. “Ticks are carried by deer and deer like to use trails too. So the highest concentration of ticks may be close to trails.”
Covering up with clothing can keep them from contacting your skin. But it’s not realistic to wear leg warmers in the summertime. So if you anticipate being deep in tick territory, use a bug repellent. If you’re comfortable using DEET, you’ll want something that is between 20 and 50 percent. “3M Ultrathon works fine,” says Barbour. For DEET-less options, picardin, which is found in OFF! Skintastic Family Care Insect Repellent is another good option. “You can also find some good natural alternatives such as oil of lemon eucalyptus,” says Barbour. Try Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent. You can also find it in a synthetic form called PMD. If you know for sure you’re going deep in tick territory, you can also treat your clothes with permethrin, says Barbour. “This prevents ticks from attaching or crawling around on clothes.”
Hunt Them Down
Check yourself very carefully if you’ve been riding through tick territory. “The bacteria move from the tick’s intestine up into its mouth and then into you. That takes a while,” says Barbour. “You have about 24 hours to remove them before your risk for disease transmission goes up.” Scrub off in the shower and check yourself carefully. If you don’t wash your clothes, at least toss them in the dryer for a cycle at the highest heat the garments can handle.
Get Them Off Safely
With a pair of tweezers, grasp the tick as close to its head as possible and gently pull it straight out without twisting. Clean the bite site with soap and water and apply 10 percent povidone iodine if available. Keep an eye on the site. Rashes generally appear within three to seven days, says Barbour. Though remember, not all people who get-tick borne diseases get rashes, so if you feel flu-like symptoms, see your doctor. Also, if you find a deer tick that is embedded and swelling with blood, and Lyme disease is present in area, you can see your doctor for a short course of antibiotics to prevent infection.
This article was originally published on Bicycling.