The official start of summer is just days away. For many of us, the warmer weather means spending more time outdoors. And with that comes plenty of sunshine, warm breezes, and, unfortunately, exposure to ticks.
In many parts of the country, tick season is already in full swing. And experts are warning that cooler weather, wet conditions, and increased humidity have delivered the perfect conditions for a bad one this time around.
There are reportedly twice as many ticks out there this year as last. That means your fun-in-the-sun adventure could turn into a tragedy fast if you’re not careful. In fact, it did for one senior recently after she was bitten by a tick in May.
The 90-year-old was the second fatality in the U.S. this year from the rare, tick-borne disease Powassan. Don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of the Powassan virus (POWV) before. Despite having done some tick research in the past, neither had I.
It’s not exactly a household name.
Rare Powassan virus spread by ticks
Tick-borne illnesses are on the rise in America. Reports of these diseases more than doubled between 2004 and 2016.
You’ve likely heard of Lyme disease, of course. It’s transmitted through infected deer ticks. And last year, I warned readers about the fast-growing threat of Babesiosis, also transmitted through tick bites.
Powassan is spread by an infected woodchuck or deer tick. And so far, incidents of the virus have remained low at about 25 cases a year since 2015. A total of 194 POWV infections were reported between 2011 and 2020. And there were 22 deaths.
It can take as little as 15 minutes for the bugs to transmit the virus. Like Lyme and Babesiosis, it’s hard to nail down the signs of Powassan. But many folks remain asymptomatic.
If you have symptoms, they tend to be common flu-like ones such as fever, chills, fatigue, muscle pain, and headaches. Unless you have a severe case. And that’s when things can become life-threatening.
Severe POWV can cause encephalitis or inflammation of the brain. Or a severe case can trigger swelling of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, called meningitis.
One in 10 with severe Powassan will die. And survivors can be left with long-term or permanent health consequences.
4 tick-blocking steps to help you stay safe
Ticks carry more than a dozen diseases, including, Powassan, Babesiosis, and Lyme. And these creepy crawly critters have been expanding their territories. Experts say they’ve even seen certain ticks moving into states where they’ve never been reported before.
But don’t let that keep you from heading outdoors. Spending more time in nature is good for your physical AND mental health. Just be sure to take some tick-blocking precautions when you do.
These four tick-fighting steps can help keep you safe…
- Wear lighter-colored clothing. It’s less attractive to the little creeps and provides a good backdrop for spotting them should they hitch a ride. Long sleeves and long pants tucked into socks may not be much of a fashion statement, but they ARE a good idea. They’re essential if you’re going to pass through tall grass or walk in the woods.
- Before heading out, treat any exposed skin and your clothing with natural bug repellants. For example, a blend that includes some combination of rosemary, lemongrass, cedar, peppermint, thyme, and geraniol oils (one I like is YAYA Organics Tick Ban). Or try 2-undecanone made from oil from the wild tomato (look for Bite Blocker with BioUD).
- Hit the laundry room the moment you arrive home. Strip down to your birthday suit and toss your clothes in the dryer on high for 20 minutes. The intense heat will help kill any ticks lurking on your clothes.
- Do a top to bottom tick check the moment you have your clothing off. Give your body a thorough once over, paying close attention to the groin, underarms, and scalp areas where ticks love to hide.
Fight back against summer pests
If you’re bitten by an infected tick, it can take symptoms anywhere from one week to a month to emerge (if they ever do). So after spending time outdoors, keep an eye out for flu-like symptoms. If they occur, or you find a tick on your skin, go see your doctor for a blood test.
But ticks aren’t the only creepy-crawly pests out to get you this summer. June often kicks off mosquito season. If you haven’t started to see these little suckers yet, you soon will. Fight back with these 5 DEET-free ways to ward off mosquito bites.