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Ticks love me.
I mean they really love me. I’m not totally sure why. It seems they’re just more attracted to me…something about my smell or something? My friends even started calling me a “tick magnet,” which they think is hilarious (I’m not laughing).
But when the going gets tough, the tough get going, right?
Well, I’m not very tough so I decided to get clever instead. Over the years I’ve developed an anti-tick strategy that would delight even those with extreme insectophobia (ticks are technically arachnids…but “insectophobia” rolls off the tongue so we had to use it). It’s taken some work, but I think I’ve perfected my techniques in tick bite prevention.
Here are my pro tips for preventing tick bites:
I’m totally kidding. Don’t let a tiny little insect deter you from enjoying the wonders of our open spaces. You can protect yourself against tick bites—you just need to know how (keep reading).
Ticks like moist environments, especially the younger ones called “nymphs” (which are also the ones most likely to harbor Lyme disease). In fact, nymphs can’t survive in environments with lower than 80 percent humidity for more than eight hours. Good to know, right? When you stop for a break on your next hike, pick a nice dry spot in the sun and be sure to bring some sunscreen.
If you’re a dog person and you enjoy our dog-friendly trails, you might be inviting more ticks into your life. Ticks like to hitchhike on dogs, so be sure to give Fido a good inspection when you get home from your hike and talk to your vet about the right tick treatment. Remember, ticks need to stay moist, so start by checking the moist areas of their bodies.
The younger ticks, the ones called “nymphs” I was talking about earlier, are really tiny…like really tiny! They can be as small as a poppy seed which can make them really hard to see. By wearing light-colored clothing, it will be easier for you to identify these little buggers and remove them before they can bite.
It may seem obvious, but keeping your skin covered prevents ticks from latching on. When the weather is cool enough, I’ll even take it one step further by tucking in my shirt and my pants into my socks. I know—nerd alert—but this prevents ticks from crawling underneath my clothing (and gives my wife a good laugh).
If possible, bring a new set of clothes to change into at the end of your hike. My wife and I always have a good chuckle changing our clothes in the trailhead parking lot. We know it’s a little awkward, but it’s the best way to prevent the ticks from entering our car and home. Check your skin for any ticks that might have snuck underneath your clothes. Then put the “soiled” clothing into a plastic bag. When you get home, wash these clothes in hot water and then place them immediately in the dryer—ticks can’t take the heat and it’s the best way to ensure these little buggers (and poison oak oil) don’t escape into the house.
If you want to take things to the next level, there is an insecticide called permethrin available that is effective at preventing tick bites. I’ve never felt the need to use it as the precautions listed above have seemed like enough. Permethrin will kill ticks and has been found to be more effective than DEET-based products at preventing tick bites. If you’re wanting to take every measure available to prevent tick bites, then this is one to explore.
Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 77,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more