The Little Things Noone Thinks About
How do you keep you, your family and your friends safe while hunting? Basic hunting safety has been drilled into most of us for as long as we can remember. Except for one little thing; ticks. Strangely, in Texas, no one really thinks twice about these little blood sucking demons. The problem here is that they are a much bigger problem than most people realize.
Despite what you may think or have been told, if you spend a good amount of time outside, ticks are inevitable. They live in logs, rock walls, tall grass, bushes, beaches, city parks, and the leaf piles your kids play in. Honestly, ticks are anywhere wildlife can be found because that’s what they feed on. Anything from squirrels, mice, birds, to deer, moose, hogs or bears. Ticks just want a warm body.
Lyme disease in Texas?
You can ask almost any Texan about ticks or Lyme disease and you will probably hear, “Oh that’s a Northern problem” or “We don’t have Lyme here”. Ya’ll, this is a very dangerous and highly inaccurate misinformation. There is so much unreliable information about ticks. Lyme and other tick borne illnesses are present in all 50 states and every continent in the world except antarctica. Ticks are active all year round and remain a threat as long as the temp remains above freezing.
Before you hit the back button to slink out of this post, hold on! The damage done by a single tick can change yours and your family’s life forever. Whether you’re trekking through a field to find your perfect spot, checking on trail cams, or working on a tree stand, ticks are around. Avoiding ticks while hunting can save you from a collection of tick borne illnesses. Two very common illnesses, besides Lyme, are Bartonella and Alpha Gal Syndrome. Bartonella sucks, but it’s somewhat treatable. Alpha Gal is for life. AGS causes the “victim” to develop an allergy to red meat. This includes venison, pork, boar, and even rabbit. Kind of a bummer, right? AGS can be mild, or it can be life threatening. Reactions from Alpha Gal usually appear after 3-6 hours after consumption, which often makes it hard to diagnose. Symptoms may be mild, causing upset stomach, diarrhea, nausea, and/or runny nose. More serious symptoms can include swelling of the lips, tongue or face, or even cause anaphylaxis or death.
AGS is no joke. Luckily, for me, I have a mild case. I can usually power through some serious stomach issues as long as I take certain supplements. No matter how much I Love my hamburgers and venison, I have to consume it sparingly. It’s a lot of “after-effect” pain just for a few minutes of salivating enjoyment.
Common Tick Borne Ilnesses
Other tick borne illnesses (coinfections) are Babesia, Anaplasmosis, Borrelia Miyamotoi, Colorado Tick Fever, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Tularemia. None of these are fun. In fact, despite what you have heard, they can be dibitilating, even life threatening. This is not even close to a complete list of vector borne illnesses. But, I think you get my point. According to Lyme Stats, there are over 300 species of Borrelia and new pathogens are being discovered daily. Even new tick species are being identified. “Viruses once thought to only be found in specific ticks are now being found in multiple types of ticks, as well as other biting insects like biting flies, mosquitos, fleas and mites.” (Abounding in Hope with Lyme, Tricia Soderstrom)
Covert Little Creatures
The symptoms of these diseases can be vague and vary greatly, making it difficult for doctors to make a proper diagnosis, until it becomes more severe. Early symptoms include flu-like symptoms, muscle and joint pain, Bell’s Palsy, and possible rash. See a much more detailed list of symptoms here. Rashes may vary in size and shape and do NOT always look like the stereotypical bulls-eye. It is also important to note that less than 50% of Lyme patients saw a rash. According to Dr. Chrisitne Green, between only 3% and 26% of patients ever even saw a tick on them. (Lymestats.org) Ticks go unnoticed because they are covert little creatures. They secrete anesthetic properties into their victims, so the bite cannot be felt. Just for the record, there is no minimum attachment rate for transmission.
“A misconception about Lyme disease is that a tick must be attached to a person for 48 hours before transmission of the disease can occur. Transmission has now been documented in a pediatric case with a tick attachment of only 30 minutes. However, we hear stories of patients having the tick attached for very short periods of time (less than 30 minutes) and contracting Lyme disease. Probability of transmission, however, does increase over a longer period of attachment.” (TXLDA)
Late stage lyme symptoms may include extreme fatigue, unavoidable need to sit or lay down, swollen glands, vision changes or blurry vision, mood swings, depression, memory issues and vertigo. There are over 300 symptoms which can come and go without warning and vary in intensity.
How to prevent tick borne illnesses
How do you keep you, your family and your friends safe while hunting? As much as I can talk about Lyme and coinfections all day, today I just want to focus on safety while hunting or spending time outdoors. You can learn more about Lyme disease here. The easiest way to protect yourself and loved ones is to treat your clothes and gear with permethrin. Apply it to all camping and hunting gear, clothing, shoes and boots, socks, hats, jackets, backpacks etc. Don’t forget pet clothes and bedding, and equine tack too when you go on trail rides! Permethrin kills ticks on contact and works by causing muscle spasms, paralysis, and death. It works, because it disrupts the tick’s nervous system making them unable to bite. In a study, Dr. Steve Meshnick and his colleagues found that “permethrin treated clothing was up to 80% effective in reducing bites. (Entomology Today)
Simple precautions can save you a lifetime of trouble. As mentioned before, protect clothing and gear with permethrin. Walk in the center of trails when possible, to avoid unnecessary contact with vegetation. Pull back long hair and/or wear a hat. Tuck pants into your socks or boots. If on a longer hunt, avoid wearing the same clothing consecutive days. Use a scent free repellant, and reapply throughout the day.
If only we had been aware of ticks when this buck was shot, we could have changed the course of our family’s future
Whether field dressing or processing, wear permethrin treated gloves to protect your hands and reduce the opportunity for ticks to sneak on board. As the carcass loses body heat, ticks will seek another warm body. Keep this in mind when you are moving, photographing, and skinning your animal. Also when dressing your game, hang it over a permethrin treated sheet or drop cloth. This will not only protect you from ticks, but other disease carrying parasites like fleas, lice, and mites as they release themselves from the cooling body. If you take your deer off location to clean, wrap it in the treated cloth to avoid allowing ticks to travel with you. Even in the back of a truck, ticks will travel looking for their next host. This is extremely important to note if you clean your game in your yard or near your home. Without taking precautions, ticks will drop off the carcass and lay eggs in your yard, which can create an infestation. My family learned this the hard way and have been paying for it since.
Once Back Inside
Once you are back inside, remove all clothing and throw in a dryer, on high heat, for at least 30 minutes. Noone can actually seem to agree on how long clothes should remain in the dryer, so the longer the better in my opinion! Make sure you shower and wash from head to toe. This will help remove any possible ticks that have not attached themselves yet. After your shower, do a full body check. Make sure to check under arms, between legs, behind knees, scalp, beard, EVERYWHERE. Tick larvae can be extremely small (as small as a speck of dust) so they can easily be overlooked. Lastly, don’t forget to check your dogs if you take them with you.
Taking these precautions and simply being aware can save you and your family so much time, money, and pain. My hope is to help spread accurate information and awareness to my fellow Texans, even if I only help save one family from this life long burden. If you would like to learn more about Lyme in Texas or need help finding a doctor, please visit Texas Lyme Disease Association.