Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tackling Backcountry Anxiety Syndrome- Ticks!

Backcountry Anxiety Syndrome is a condition where things that aren't as scary as they seem to the uninitiated conspire to keep people from enjoying nature. Recently, I was chatting with an acquaintance of mine, and this came up. He said:

"I'm not scared of much. Heights, snakes, tight spaces, whatever..... but ticks..... those things give me the mega-creeps. Tiny little disease vectors that suck your blood. Ugh."

It's true. Ticks are a kind-of bugaboo for a lot of people, especially in the last twenty years with the resurgence of Lyme's Disease and other fun things like Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and the newest and fun-est one of the bunch, Alpha-Gal allergies. That one comes from the Lone Star tick. For those of you who don't know, Lone Star ticks- with a distinctive dot on their back- are the ones that pass on the alpha-gal allergy, which makes you unable to eat any non-primate mammalian meat potentially ever again. No beef, no pork, no venison, mutton, game meat, etc.

In fact, recently I had a person come into the emergency department I work at with a full-blown anaphylactic reaction; turns out he'd picked the pepperoni off a slice of pizza his family had ordered and even the residual amount of grease or whatever left sent him to the ED via ambulance.

So, the right thing to do is panic- stay indoors, carpet bomb your property with pesticides, wear a human tick collar- right? Nah. You definitely need to watch out for ticks if you're out and about, but with a little vigilance, you don't have much to worry about.

Some things to remember- ticks generally crawl from the ground. They don't usually attach from brushing up against something or dropping onto you, but it's not impossible for that to happen. They don't seek out prey this way, though. Their instinct is to crawl from the ground and up as far as they can, lots of times in the hair, behind the ear, etc.

Wear long pants and tuck them into your socks if you're in a high-density tick area, and stay to the trails- you shouldn't be bushwacking too much anyhow, which can destroy delicate environments. Check yourself frequently in tick country, and remove ticks early- earlier the better. When you do remove ticks, don't squeeze their bellies, you need to grab them by the head with tweezers and gently pull until they pop off. Might pull skin up, too, when you do that, but that's okay. Steady backwards pressure, they'll come off. Don't use matches or anything like that, makes it more likely they'll regurgitate their stomach contents- especially if they're distended.

You can also buy sprays you can put on your clothing that'll instill them with insecticide; apparently, they work pretty good, but I'm not 100% sold on that. Also, it goes without saying maybe, but make sure you use plenty of insect repellent! Take this advice, and don't let ticks keep you from getting out in the backcountry!

If you want the full run-down, see the Centers for Disease Control's excellent website on ticks and tick prevention.

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