Summer is the season for getting outdoors. It’s also the season for ticks – a real big deal in PA since we lead the nation in Lyme Disease. (Quick aside: Shouldn’t it be Lyme, CT where this all started?). The Wissahickon is a particular hotbed for ticks and for people (and dogs) looking to escape the heat in the shade of the park’s paths and trails. No worries though – a little mindfulness and preparation can keep you and your best friend safe from Lyme (and a bunch of other nasty stuff).
First off, know your enemy. There are many kinds of ticks, but three are most common to the Wissahickon: American dog ticks, lone star ticks, and black-legged ticks (AKA deer ticks). Of the three, only the deer tick can transmit Lyme disease, and fun fact — in their tiny nymph stage in June and July they are really hard to spot. Although dog ticks and lone star ticks don’t carry Lyme, they can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and several other unpleasant tick-borne diseases.
Second, prepare yourself before you head out. You can spray your clothes with bug spray or treat them with Permethrin ahead of time. Once you’re in the park, stay on the trail (and in the middle of it) — avoid areas with tall grasses, which are most common in the Andorra and Houston Meadows. Thirdly and most importantly, make sure after every hike to do a thorough tick check (including your scalp, hair, armpits, and groin) – checks are the one surefire way to avoid tricky ticks. Another good habit is to take off all of your clothing immediately after your hike and throw it in a high-heat dryer for about 15 minutes. It’ll kill any tick that’s hitched a ride home with you.
Lastly, if you do find a tick, use a pair of tweezers, grip it at the point of entry, and pull firmly but slowly out of your skin. Ticks generally take up to eight hours to infect you, but checking your body for ticks as soon as you get home is the best practice. If you brought your dog along, check them too, as ticks like dogs just as much as they like deer, mice, and humans. (It helps if you’re up to date on any anti-tick meds for your dog because if you’ve got a really fluffy pup, finding a tick can be an adventure.)
Tick Testing and Trends
If you do find a tick on yourself and would like to test it, tape it to a card or keep it in a baggie and visit the Tick Research Lab of PA. They can test the tick for common pathogens. What’s more, if you send them a photo of your tick, they can also attempt to identify it as a free courtesy service.
Want more information? Check out the PA Tick Lab website to stay up on tick trends, and if you’re not too skeeved, you can watch an informative tick webinar from the Penn State Extension. You can learn even more at cdc.gov/ticks!