Outdoor summer fun has very few downsides, but the risk of tick bites is one. You've probably heard of Lyme Disease, a tick-borne bacterial infection that can cause a range of serious neurological and other problems , but you probably aren't aware that it is the fastest growing infectious disease in the country (I wasn't, anyway).
In addition to trying to avoid tick bites, you should be vigilant about checking your body for ticks after you go outside in an area where they may be present. If you remove a tick within the first day or two of when it bites, you can avoid infection (though remember that not all ticks carry Lyme Disease). You would probably notice if an adult tick had latched on to you, but you should know that immature "nymph" ticks are smaller and can go undetected, which is why it's important to inspect your skin, and that of children's, after time outdoors. Here are some images of different types of ticks at various stages of their life cycles. If you know or suspect that a tick has bitten you, it's important to be evaluated by a doctor at once, because taking antibiotics shortly after infection can halt the disease (but medications are far less effective once the disease has progressed).
Consider following these ten tips for preventing tick bites, provided by the Tick-Borne Disease Alliance:
1. Purchase tick-repellent clothing, especially clothing treated with permethrin, an insecticide that repels and kills ticks. You may spray your own clothing with permethrin or seek out brands such as Insect Shield, ExOfficio's BugsAway or ElimiTick from retailers like L.L. Bean and Eastern Mountain Sports, which remain effective for up to 70 washes.
2. Reduce the amount of skin exposed by sporting long pants, long-sleeved shirts and a hat
3. EPA-approved insect repellent should be applied to exposed skin
4. Venture in the center of woodland trails, and by all means avoid walking along any deer paths
5. Every time you've been outside, check for ticks while you are out and as soon as you get back
6. Never wait to shower. Bathing as soon as possible will help in removing unattached ticks from your body. Bath time is the perfect time to carefully inspect for any unwanted hitch hikers.
7. Take your clothes off and put them in the dryer at high heat for about 30 minutes to kill any ticks
8. Inspect your pets when they come inside from the outdoors, as they may be transporting ticks that can then transfer to you
9. Opt for light-colored clothing to make it easier to spot ticks
10. Neatly tuck your shirt into your pants and your pants legs into your socks when possible to provide an extra line of defense against ticks
Although Lyme Disease sounds terrible, it would be far worse to let fear of it keep you from getting outside and hiking, biking and being active in nature, and cower on the screened-in porch instead. I will definitely be taking these precautions on my upcoming vacation in New England, one of the regions where the infection is most common (though it occurs throughout the country—as you can see on this Lyme Disease map from the Centers for Disease Control). Although I usually try to avoid pesticides in any form, I think the risk posed by tick-borne disease outweighs any risks that might be posed by this limited exposure.