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Tick safety on the trail

By Ron Scopelliti

While Smithfield’s scenic trails offer a convenient way to both improve your cardiovascular health and get in touch with nature, there are certain elements of nature we’d all like to avoid, like ticks.

According to the latest posted data on the Centers for Disease Control website, 2017 saw reports of tick-borne disease in America rise to 59,349 cases, up more than 10,000 from the previous year. By far, the largest number of these reports were of Lyme disease (42,743).

There are several tips regarding tick safety that every Boy Scout and Girl Scout learns, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth repeating, and many have been updated over the years.

The best option is to avoid the areas where ticks are common – wooded areas, brush, tall grass, leaf litter, and areas where small mammals live, like stone walls and wood piles. But since those are areas that tend to become very popular in the spring, there are several things you can do to mitigate the danger of ticks:

Whether you’re hiking or mountain biking, stick to the center of the trail and avoid brushing up against branches, brush, and fringes of grass.

Protect your skin with an insect repellent containing 20 to 30 percent DEET. While other homegrown remedies are often touted, DEET is the most widely-recommended.

Wear clothing that covers your skin if you’ll be in a likely habitat for ticks. Tucking your pant-legs into your socks will keep ticks from climbing up inside them. Since their natural instinct is to climb, you should tuck in your shirt as well, to keep them from climbing up under it.

For further protection, you can treat your clothing with permethrin. If you’re camping, you might also want to treat your tent. There are places that sell pre-treated clothing, or will treat clothing that you send them. There’s also the option of treating clothing items yourself, though professionally-treated clothing will retain its resistance longer.

If you do treat your own clothing with permethrin, don’t allow cats near it until it’s fully dry – exposure could cause serious illness and even death. It is also harmful to fish, as well as bees and other beneficial insects.

Even if you and your clothing are treated, when you get home you should perform a careful inspection of your clothes and your body to make sure you haven’t carried home any unwanted visitors. Use a mirror, or a close friend, to inspect any hard-to-see spots, and follow up the inspection with a shower. Most sources recommend doing this within two hours of completing your outdoor activities. Another option is to use a roller lint remover with adheisive tape over your clothing to pick up any unseen climbers.

If you find a tick attached to you, pull it out by grasping it by the head with tweezers, as close to the skin as possible. Make sure the jaws aren’t left behind in your skin. If you’re concerned that the jaws might still be attached, see a doctor.

Make sure your pets are protected as well. While there’s no shortage of over-the-counter treatments for dogs and cats, it’s best to consult your vet to ensure that you’re getting the right treatment for your pet. For instance, it’s extremely important to remember that treatments which are perfectly safe for dogs can be deadly for cats.

If you’re looking to delve deeper into the world of ticks, there are plenty of resources on the web, and two particularly useful sites have their roots in Rhode Island.

The Rhode Island Department of Health has a concise and easy-to-navigate guide on tick-borne disease and its prevention at http://health.ri.gov/disease/carriers/ticks/.

Their site also contains a link to a Rhode Island organization that has one of the most comprehensive tick resource websites anywhere: URI’s Tick Encounter Resource Center (TERC). TERC’s website not only offers a plethora of tips and information, it offers links to services that treat clothing, identify ticks from photographs, and test ticks to see if they’re infected. They also offer resources for teachers looking to cover the subject in the classroom. The address is tickencounter.org.

When it comes to ticks, one thing that’s hard to find on the web is a kind word. While there are many sites ready to leap to the defense of creatures with longtime image problems like spiders and snakes, it’s hard to find any touting the positive aspects of ticks. Maybe some bad reputations are deserved.