A Runners’ Guide to Ticks
Even with all the things to worry about, ticks are still pretty high on our list. For starters, anything that wants to ruin our run AND requires a “blood meal” at our expense … let’s just say we’re not fans. Looking at you, mosquitoes and vampires. But let’s just stick with ticks here.
No argument here; ticks are super gross. They go through several stages during their lifecycle to adulthood, requiring a blood meal at each stage to survive. Ticks can feed on mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. In the process, they can also pass along potentially serious or even life-threatening infections, like Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, bartonella, and viral encephalitis. As an added bonus, they’re active practically every month of the year.
“Ticks are a routine problem in Charlotte and the surrounding area since we have such mild winters,” says Dr. Sloan Manning, a family physician at Novant Health Salem Family Medicine. He says he sees ticks and tick-borne illnesses regularly at his practice in Winston-Salem.
Ticks can’t fly, run, or jump, so they hang out in places they’re likely to find a host, ready to climb aboard. They identify well-used paths and potential feeding grounds by detecting all of the signals we or another host might broadcast; like breath and body odors, body heat, moisture, and vibrations. If that’s not nightmarish enough, some species can even recognize a shadow. From there, they’ll perch on the tips of grasses and twigs, waiting for their hosts to brush by.
While researching ticks is not far from the stuff of Jordan Peele movies, Dr. Manning says ticks shouldn’t scare you from getting outside and enjoying a run in the woods, the park, or family time outside. And yes, a little prevention will go a long way.
Before and during your run:
- Choose bright colored clothing. That may help you more easily see ticks before they get a chance to latch on.
- Use a tick repellant. It can be sprayed on clothing and exposed skin.
- Stay in the center of the trail or path. Remember; ticks hang out at the edges waiting to hitch a ride.
After your run:
- Get out of your running clothes as soon as possible. For lots of reasons, actually.
- Give yourself a full-body inspection. Pay particular attention to underarms, between legs, behind the ears, at your waistband area – even under your watchband.
- Take a shower. No, you can’t wash off any attached ticks, but you may feel some you missed and possibly rinse away any that may not have latched on.
What if you find an attached tick?
- Don’t rip the tick from your skin. Using tweezers, forceps, or a tick removing tool to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible and gently pull straight up and out.
- Wash your hands, clean the bite area and the tools used to remove the tick.
- Save the tick in a plastic, sealable bag and date it with a permanent marker. This can help your doctor identify the tick and, should you get sick, diagnose any possible tick-borne illnesses.
- Report any fevers or rashes to your doctor.
Some tick bites can go unnoticed, reminds Dr. Manning. Ticks may bite, feed, detach, and disappear without you even knowing. Even if you’re not in the woods or on the trail, your lawn or pet can present an opportunity for exposure.
“Tick-borne illnesses should be on the mind of your health care provider,” reminds Dr. Manning, “and they should be on yours if you are active outdoors.”