Many diseases are considered rare. You think they will never effect you or a loved one…until they do.
For me, it first happened 10 years ago when Parkinson’s Disease wasn’t just that thing Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali have. It became very real when my father was diagnosed.
This happened again 2 years ago when the closest person to a brother I have in this world, my cousin, was diagnosed with Lyme Disease. All of a sudden Lyme Disease wasn’t just something I watched on 20/20 years ago or a warning I have read on a sign along so many Northern California trails. It was real. If you are reading this blog post, you are probably an outdoorsy person and are already well aware of ticks. With the month of May being Lyme Awareness Month, I wanted to shed some light on this awful disease.
I have been an avid outdoorsman since I could start walking. I was a kid that grew up in the brush. I never wore tick spray. Even when I got older and started hearing more about Lyme on the news or talk shows, I still always felt that it was such a long shot and never thought twice about it.
Three years ago I was out turkey hunting and felt a pinch on my hand. It was a tick! I quickly flicked it off and went about my way. About six weeks later I started getting really sick and showing many symptoms of Lyme. This included fevers, fatigue, headaches. I took a blood test for Lyme and a chest X-ray for pneumonia, fortunately for me it was the latter.
Fast forward a year later and my cousin’s positive diagnosis, I have become very tick aware especially since I do a lot of family hikes with my kids.
Lyme Disease is no joke. It will ruin your life and hurt those around you. The disease itself is so hard to diagnose. The test has a very high false negative rate. Lyme mimics so many other things and doctors are not well trained or even willing to diagnose it. In fact, many sufferers of Lyme have had doctors jerk them around for months or even years before actually admitting it is Lyme. Once diagnosed, there are very few specialists in the United States and they are very hard to get into for treatment. If you are lucky to get a seat at the table, treatment is very expensive and most strains of Lyme are not covered by medical insurance forcing patients to pay tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket.
Unfortunately, the best way to attack Lyme Disease, is by preventing it from happening in the first place. For outdoorsy folks like ourselves, we need to take precautions, even though, nothing is 100% effective.
For starters, a good tick spray should be sprayed on you before heading out. Those containing permethrin have been testing as the most effective. There are also lines of clothing that are treated in permethrin. I have not used any of these yet, but have heard good things. When hiking, wear light clothing so you can see if you have any hitch hikers on you. This isn’t always the case when we are out hunting and decked out in camouflage. Staying on trail and not leaning up against trees, sitting on logs, or playing in woodpiles is an effective way to keep them from jumping on you.
Once you leave the forest, it is important to take some precautions at home. Before getting in the car, I do a surface inspection of my clothes and skin. Most times I have second pair of shoes which allows me toss my hiking boots in the bed of the truck. Once I get home, clothes come off in the garage and go straight in the wash. I’ve also heard tips of tossing your clothes into the dryer and running it on high heat for 15-20 minutes before washing. After that, that’s when a thorough check of your body and shower should take place. If you have small kids, you need to look over them really well and scrub their hair thoroughly.
Another carrier is your pets. If you have been hiking in tick prevalent areas with your dog, there is a very good chance they have picked up a flea or tick. As small as these bugs are, it is virtually impossible to be certain that you got them all off. Studies have shown that flea and tick collars or pills are not 100% effective. If you are planning a hike in an area that you know is infested with ticks, leaving your dog at home is the best option. I know this isn’t always possible, especially for hunters that use dogs for upland game, waterfowl, and big game.
There is a lot of great data and products out there to help keep these nasty bugs off you and prevent your life from being turned upside down. There is a nice free app called Tick Tracker that you can download to find out if there have been tick sightings in your area. The app can use as many users as possible to help get better information. So spread the word and download it yourself.
I don’t pretend to be an expert on Lyme Disease or tick prevention, but it’s something we should all be aware of while doing the stuff we love in the great outdoors. Let’s do all we can to prevent the spread of ticks by leaving them in the woods and not bringing them to our homes and families.
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Last modified: May 9, 2019