Late spring and early summer is one of the best—and most exhilarating—times of year to take to outdoors for a hike. It’s also peak season for tick bites, especially if you live in the East or Midwest.
It’s no coincidence that May is Lyme Disease Awareness month. Lyme Disease—named after Old Lyme, Connecticut, where it was first appeared in the mid-1970s—is the most common tick-borne illness in North America and Europe, and can be debilitating. If not treated early, it can cause chronic fatigue and complications in the joints, heart, and nervous system. Deer ticks, which attach to deer, humans, and other mammals and feed on their blood, are the most common carriers of the bacteria. The first sign in 70 percent of cases is often a telltale “bulls-eye” rash.
"High season for Lyme and other tick-borne diseases is May, June and July," says Bob Oley, Tick-Borne Disease Prevention Expert and 30-year Public Health Consultant for the Tick-Borne Disease Alliance. "This is the season where deer tick nymphs are born (the most commonly infected tick). Nearly 80 percent of people who are infected with Lyme disease are bitten by a nymph during this period."
So, travelers, as you celebrate the end of cold weather and take to the forest, meadows, and even grassy parks, here are some good tips to keep in mind:
- Wear light-colored clothing, which makes spotting dark ticks easier.
- Coverage is key: wear pants, socks, and closed shoes.
- Wear clothing treated with Permethrin, which is available at most drug stores
- Wear tick repellant on exposed skin. Effective chemical versions include IR3535,DEET, and Picaridin; organic solutions include essential lemon eucalyptus or cedar oil.
- Walk away from brush in the center of available paths.
- Conduct thorough body checks after your walk or hike, especially of warm places, such as in the armpit, between the toes, behind the knees, and behind the ear.
Another reason to be extra-vigilant after your wilderness wanderings is a growing tick-bourne illness in North America: One in three people bitten by a deer tick carrying the powerful “Powassan” virus dies. There is no known cure.
Check yourself. Check your loved ones. Then, check again.
Adrien Glover is deputy digital editor of Travel + Leisure. She has been bitten several times by a deer tick.