4 tips to help prevent tick bites, according to a wilderness educator

  • Kerry Leavenworth has spent her life outdoors, mostly in long pants to reduce her risk of tick bites.
  • Her job as a nature educator is to make sure students check for ticks after exploring the woods.
  • Some ticks can spread serious illnesses with their bites, so it’s important to remove them quickly.

Tick ​​bites are an occupational hazard for Kerry Leavenworth, a 30-year-old program coordinator at Nature’s Classroom.

After spending nearly half his life working outdoors, the risk of getting bitten “still scares me a little bit,” Leavenworth told Insider. But in her years of experience as a camp counselor and outdoor educator, she’s had her share of insect encounters.

Her job at Nature’s Classroom, an environmental education program in New England, requires her to be diligent about removing ticks from her own body, and she asks her staff to do the same. If not removed quickly, some ticks can spread bacteria that cause Lyme disease or other illnesses.

Leavenworth said wearing long pants and using insect repellent (or a chemical-free alternative) could help you avoid tick bites and prevent serious illness. Even if you take preventative measures, it is important to check for ticks if you spend a lot of time outdoors.

Know the risks associated with tick species in your area

At the start of each three- to five-day excursion, typically for middle schoolers, the program nurse goes over the basics of tick prevention, Leavenworth said.

Signs around the camp show enlarged photos of the deer tick, which is known to spread Lyme disease. Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness in New Hampshire, where Leavenworth works.

The tick’s black legs distinguish it from other species, such as the American brown-legged tick. Leavenworth said he saw more dog ticks than blacklegged ticks around the camp. While the dog tick is associated with Rocky Mountain spotted fever in the southern United States, the disease is very rare in the northeast, according to surveillance data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Blacklegged tick on a blade of grass

Beware of blacklegged ticks, as they can spread bacteria that cause Lyme disease.

Ladislav Kubes/Getty Images

Wear long pants tucked into high socks

Leavenworth said she wore long pants to reduce her risk of tick bites. Children visiting the outdoor education program are encouraged to do the same, especially as they explore the depths of the woods.

Ticks thrive in wooded and grassy areas where animals roam, so a host for food is never too far away. Many species prefer moist environments low to the ground, such as piles of wood or rotting leaves, according to Tick Talk.

If you spend a lot of time in the woods, Leavenworth also recommends tucking your pants into your socks to protect your ankles. That being said, ticks can cling to clothing and hitchhike indoors, so it’s important to check for ticks even if you’ve taken precautions to avoid them.

Check for ticks in your cracks and crevices

After spending so much time outdoors, Leavenworth told Insider that checking for ticks came naturally. She said she made sure to do thorough tick checks in the shower and was constantly on the lookout for ticks that made their way inside.

Ticks like warm, moist areas of the body. Some of the most common parts of the body where ticks can hide, according to the National Pest Management Association, are:

  • Back of the knees.
  • Along the inside of the legs.
  • Around the waist.
  • Under the arms and under the armpits.
  • Behind the ears.
  • In and around the hair.

If you find a tick on your body, remove it promptly and monitor the area

Ticks can spend several hours exploring the body before biting, so time is running out.

Once a tick has found a soft spot to bite on, it will embed its mouthparts, releasing small amounts of saliva to numb the area. The tick’s saliva and blood may contain pathogens that can cause disease, according to the CDC.

tick bites

A “bulls-eye” rash is an early sign of Lyme disease.

Himagine/Getty Images and anakopa/Getty Images

Leavenworth said several children visit the Nature’s Classroom nurse to remove ticks every day. To remove ticks embedded in the skin, locate the tick’s head and remove it with tweezers, taking care not to release the insect’s blood or leave any parts behind.

If the tick has become embedded, the camp nurse usually saves the insect in case it is needed for the test. Leavenworth also recommends circling a tick bite to watch for any redness in the area, which could be an early sign of infection.

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