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It's Tick Time: Are You Prepared?

Ticks are nasty little arachnid bugs that only know how to do one thing well, which is to make you sick. Fortunately, REI and the Wilderness Medicine Institute of NOLS have some simple tips to keep you healthy.

Tick embedded into skinFirst, know your enemy. Ticks can live anywhere where you might camp. They like vegetated areas, especially ones where small mammals live. Their main occupation is a behavior called "questing," which is crawling upwards en masse and waving their tiny arms around until some unsuspecting mammal walks through their nest in the woods or grasslands and they can grasp and latch on.

The ticks then continue their quest, crawling until they find warm, moist, thin skin to bury their heads in. On you or me, the spot is likely to be our scalp, armpit, waistline or groin. What's worse is that, though ticks are not venomous, they carry and transmit a bevy of diseases from tick fever to Lyme disease.

Tick-bite prevention includes tucking in clothing—shirts into pants and pants into socks—and twice-daily tick checks. Gaiters may add some protection if they're snug, but remember that ticks are tiny and can burrow under clothing quite well. In addition to clothing, you may opt for chemical countermeasures: The CDC approves the use of 20% or greater DEET-based insect repellents. You can also apply permethrin, a repellent and insecticide, to your clothing. Apply these chemicals before entering tick-prone areas.

Tick removal via tweezersIf you find a tick in your skin, the only CDC-approved removal method is tweezers (which are part of many first-aid kits). No need for Vaseline smothering, gasoline dousing, matchhead burning and other folk remedies! Instead, gently grasp the tick by the head and pull straight out—that ought to do the trick. Wash the bite site thoroughly with iodine, rubbing alcohol or soap and water, and save the tick (preferably dead!) in a sealed plastic baggie for laboratory testing in case you get sick later. The doctor may be able to analyze the bug to see what diseases it gave you. Note that ticks can only pass on their diseases if they are burrowed in your skin. Touching a tick or having one merely crawl on your skin is not dangerous.

Rash caused by tick biteTick illnesses are scary, it's true, but if you remove embedded ticks in a reasonable amount of time—up to several hours or even days—they'll not have a chance to pass their diseases on to you. If you experience fever or flu-like symptoms post tick-bite, or if you see a strange rash appear on your skin around the bite site, it's critical that you see a doctor for antibiotic therapy. You may have contracted a tick fever or Lyme disease and early treatment is required to stomp it out.

Nasty as they are, don't let this pest ruin your summer!

John Hovey is an instructor for the Wilderness Medicine Institute (WMI). The REI Outdoor School partners with WMI to offer wilderness first-aid classes at selected REI store locations (click on the REI Outdoor School link above and scroll down to the Wilderness Medicine Classes and Outings section for the class schedule).  


Posted on at 1:15 PM

Tagged: CDC, Lyme disease, NOLS, WMI, Wilderness Medicine Institute, first aid, health, tick fever and ticks

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T.D. Wood Staff Member

When commenting on this post, several of REI's Facebook fans mentioned the stellar performance of a tick-removal tool available at REI, the Tick Key from Liberty Mountain. In the search box at the top of this page you can enter "Tick Key" or its product number, 777807. Here's the URL: Five customers have posted 5-star reviews of this little device. Sounds pretty handy.

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Keeping the tick for a lab to check is unrealalistic. I work in a rural ER and we see hundreds of tick bites a year. WE do not send any ticks to any labs. The cost is pretty steep and they require cash payment before any work is done. Insurance will not pay for it.


Decent article. I appreciate REI getting awareness out to the public. I agree with preventative measures including tucking in clothing and using permethrin. I do not recommend DEET for specific tick repellent. DEET repels insects quite nicely and ticks quite poorly.


This year seems particularly bad in the Northeast. While the preventative measures mentioned are all valuable, I would suggest more frequent checks. Twice is not enough in my opinion.


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