Spring has just begun and as the trees slowly unfold their foliage, the first ticks are being spotted. Do not be discouraged by the presence of ticks. You can take a few precautions and a good check after every walk is recommended.
Content of this article:
When is the tick season?
A tick has a life cycle of about 4 years. The eggs are laid in the autumn and the larvae hatch in the spring. In a subsequent stage, the larvae grow into a nymph and finally into an adult tick. A larva, nymph and adult (female) tick all need blood. Knowing that a female tick lays more than 1000 eggs, you know that there will be a flare-up of ticks starting in spring. Especially in March and April, the number of ticks starts to grow rapidly, with June and July as the peak months. You can still encounter ticks in October and even in November. Staying alert is therefore important.
What is the problem with ticks?
Ticks can transmit bacteria, viruses and/or parasites to humans. You may have heard of Lyme disease, but meningitis causes by tick-borne encephalitis is also a possibility. The diseases are mainly transmitted by nymphs and adult ticks, although not all ticks are infected.
Can you protect yourself against ticks?
Yes, there are all kinds of products that protect you against ticks. One of the best known is DEET. I will spare you the chemical name of this stuff. It can be found as an ingredient in many insect-repellent products, usually in a mixture of 10 to 50%. In the end it also appears to be very effective against ticks (attention: a tick is not an insect but is considered an arachnid).
DEET has a very strong smell that can make people nauseous. But not only that. DEET breaks down some materials like plastic (and thus nylon) and also affects water-repellent layers of tents or clothes. Nevertheless the use of DEET is recommended by governments and health authorities. Some hikers spray it on their clothes. Of course, taking the above into account, this can be done on natural materials such as wool. Exposed skin can be treated with the product anyway, but be careful not to get it into a wound. Another product that is effective against ticks and less harmful for your equipment is icaridin.
Care Plus, a brand that is easy to find in outdoor sports shops, has a whole range of first aid and insect repellent products.
It helps to wear light-coloured clothing so that you can spot ticks quickly and shake them off if possible. Tucking your trouser legs into your socks can also help, but ticks may still find a way in. Ticks are found among vegetation such as bushes and long grass.
Check yourself after every hike!
Despite all precautions, you can still be bitten by a tick. A tick bite does not hurt. So unless you see the tick stuck in your skin, you will not know you have been bitten. Ideally, you should check your body after every walk. And they are often in the most unexpected or difficult-to-reach places: the belly button, the armpit, between the buttocks or in your hair. Checking is easier with two people. Don't go too fast and take your time for a thorough check.
What to do if a tick has nestled in your skin?
As mentioned earlier, the larva, the nymph and the adult female tick need blood to survive or lay eggs. Once they have found suitable prey, for example humans or animals, they try to find a place where they can get blood. Ticks have different sizes in those stages. Larvae grow up to 1 to 1.5 millimetres. Nymphs about double that size and adult females can be up to 15 millimetres. Naturally, the larvae are the hardest to spot, but they can do the least damage.
In the tick season, always take the right equipment with you to be able to remove the tick. You can use tweezers with a thin tip, a tick card or a tick twister (but don't twist the tick out). Some people say that you should pull the tick out of your skin in a circular, twisting movement. But it is advisable to pull it out in one smooth movement straight from the top. Do not push on the body of the tick, because you will encourage a possible infection. It is okay if part of the head remains in the skin. Disinfect the bite area with alcohol. The Flemish Government's website shows the various instruments and how you can remove a tick with them.
Interesting links :
Website Sciensano (Belgian Scientific Institute): https://www.sciensano.be/en/health-topics/lyme-disease/prevention