Preventing Tick-Borne Diseases on the Appalachian Trail

We want you to stay safe and healthy
while you’re hiking on the Appalachian Trail. We at the Appalachian Trail
Conservancy have partnered with InsectShield and tick researcher Carl Ford
to bring you this educational video. Ticks can carry several diseases that
have serious health effects. Small but potentially dangerous, ticks are found along the A.T. and pose risks that all hikers should be aware of. Lyme disease is characterized by fever, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, nausea, and in some cases a bull’s-eye rash. Other tick-borne diseases have similar symptoms as Lyme Disease except a rash is uncommon. If left untreated, Lyme Disease may cause a constellation of later symptoms, including severe headaches, facial paralysis, severe arthritis of the knees, nerve pain, inflammation of the heart, and brain damage. Severe effects may also occur
even after receiving treatment, so preventing a tick bite from the very
beginning is crucial. As you’ve seen and heard, a host of health problems can come about from a tick bite. While you’re hiking, here’s what to keep an eye out for. The deer tick carries Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and several others. The Lone Star Tick carries Ehrlichiosis and others. The American dog tick is also present and can carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. A single tick can transmit multiple diseases. Most cases of tick-borne disease are caused by tiny ticks in the nymph stage. These ticks are no bigger than a poppy seed or a speck of dirt. In fact, a tick can be so small that you may not even see or feel it. This is why preventing a tick bite is so crucial. Lyme Disease is by far the most prevalent tick-borne disease on the A.T. The Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, maps cases of reported Lyme disease. As you can see, the A.T. passes through the most prevalent areas of Lyme disease in the Mid-Atlantic States, but is also found in adjacent states in the Northeast. The CDC reports 300,000 cases of Lyme Disease per year in the United States, and the number of other tick-borne diseases is growing. On the A.T., you may pass through areas where ticks are common. In some areas, ticks cannot be avoided. Surveys show that 5-9% of northbound thru-hikers who typically pass through the Mid-Atlantic region when ticks are most active, report
getting Lyme disease on the Trail. However, anyone who visits the A.T. should take precautions for ticks. Some tick-borne diseases, such as anaplasmosis, can be fatal if untreated. Others may last for years and can result in long-term health issues if not treated. These diseases can be treated most effectively in their early stages, so don’t delay in going to the doctor if you are experiencing any of the symptoms previously discussed. So what are the best ways you can protect yourself from ticks while enjoying the A.T.? Here are five of our recommendations. Keep in mind: many people never know they are bitten by ticks. Prevention is key. Wear clothing treated with permethrin, which repel ticks. Here are some options. Spray permethrin on your clothing, boots, and any gear that touches the ground. Purchase pretreated clothing from sites
such as or your local outfitter, or send your clothing to InsectShield and they can simply treat it for you. For maximum protection, wear long pants treated with permethrin or bug pants in hot weather. Use 20-30% DEET on exposed skin. Conduct frequent tick checks paying
special attention to underarms, behind the knees, scalp, ears, pelvic area, between
the legs, and belly button. A backpacker should carry a mirror to examine hard-to-see areas. When possible, shower as soon as you can after coming indoors and put your clothes in the dryer on high heat for 60 minutes to kill any remaining ticks. Avoid tick habitats, walk in the center of the trail, stay away from brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter, and avoid sitting on the ground or logs. Take rest breaks at shelters or on a ground cloth that’s been treated with permethrin. Taking preventive measures can greatly
reduce the chance of a tick biting you, but if you do find a tick, remove it immediately. Remember that young ticks may look like a speck of dirt, so it’s important to conduct frequent tick checks to catch a tick as soon as possible. So when I talk to people about proper tick removal, I usually start off by telling them what not to do. And you definitely never want to use any kind of a chemical or things like a burnt match to try to remove a tick. Anything you do that shocks that tick, that might prompt it to regurgitate the contents of its stomach into your bloodstream, is not good for you. So fine point tweezers, a specialized tick removal tool — you can find those online for your pets and for you — are the way to go. So if i had a tick embedded in my leg right here — you can see that’s the size like a pepper flake — of a deer tick nymph, the tick species that
transmits Lyme Disease. I need really fine point tweezers to be able to get down to the base of that ticks head where it’s bitten me and pull back with
steady even pressure until that tick releases, making sure that I get the entire tick out. So it may be, you know, a little panicky when you see a tick, but you need to stay calm, get that tick down at the base of your skin, you know, maybe even pull a little piece of your skin out. Better to do that and know you got the entire tick than to leave part of a mouth part embedded. We hope we have convinced you of the importance of taking a few preventative measures that can greatly reduce your chances of becoming ill from a tick bite. We encourage you to follow the tips in this video and have a safe hike.

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