When it comes to float trips, mosquitos aren’t the only bugs biting along the river. Families also need to protect themselves against ticks, especially since Lyme’s disease isn’t the only possible side effect of a tick bite. In 2009, the Hearthland Virus appeared in St. Joseph, MO. Two farms were hospitalized with tick bites from ticks infected with a new germ that makes people sick. Since 2009, eight people have been infected with the Heathland Virus and one person has died. In order to prevent tick bites on your next float trip, you’ll want to understand where ticks live and when they are most active, the steps to take to prevent tick bites, what to do if you’ve been bitten by one and the symptoms of being bitten by a tick infected with Lyme’s disease or the Hearthland Virus.
Part of preventing tick bites on your next float trip means knowing where they live and when they are most active. Ticks like to hang outside in high grass, brush, around woodpiles, in forested areas, in deserts and around beaches. Ticks are most active during the hotter and dryer conditions of the day during warmer months, April – September, though you will see some seeking hosts during the cool and humid hours at dusk and dawn. Contrary to popular believe, ticks don’t fall from the trees, they climb. They latch onto raccoons, skunks, coyotes, dogs and even us humans. Why are ticks often found higher up on the human body? Because they crawl up to a place that’s warm with blood.
What can you do to prevent tick bites? Do your best to avoid direct contact with ticks. This means avoiding bushy and wooded areas that have high grass and leaf litter. If you plan to do some hiking on your next float trip too, be sure to walk in the center of the trails, away from trees and tree trunks where ticks lurk. You can repel ticks with DEET or Permetrin. Bug sprays that contain 20%-30% DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) can last up to several hours. Before heading outdoors to wooded areas, apply DEET bug repellent to exposed skin and clothing. Avoid exposure to your hands, eyes and mouth. Use bug repellents with permethrin to treat your clothing, boots, pants, socks and tents. Permethrin remains protective through several washings while protection on pre-treated clothing may be longer.
One of the best things you can do when you return home from your float trip is to strip off all clothing in your garage before entering your home. Proceed to your bathroom immediately and have a spouse of family member help you look for any ticks or tick bites. You’ll want to shower within two hours of coming indoors. This is when it’s easier to find and wash off ticks that could be crawling on you.
If you live alone, check your body for ticks by using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body. Look under the arms, in and around your ears, in your belly button, behind your knees, between the legs, around your waist and in your hair. And don’t forget your gear and pets. Ticks can come into your home by hitching a ride on them and attaching themselves to you later. Examine your pets and gear as carefully as you’ve inspected yourself and family members. Also, running wet clothes in the dryer on high heat for an hour (dry clothes won’t take as long) will kill any remaining ticks you may have missed.
Lyme’s disease happens when blacklegged ticks infected with the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi bite a human. Symptoms include fatigue, headache, fever and a skin rash called erythema migrans. Left untreated, Lyme’s disease can spread to the joints, heart and nervous system. Fortunately, Lyme’s disease can be treated with antibiotics. What makes the Hearthland Virus so dangerous is that this is a virus that doesn’t respond to antibiotics which is what makes taking preventative measures on your next float trip so important.