Ticks are most common in grassy areas and heavily wooded areas. They are picked up when you brush against vegetation. They do not jump, fly, or drop from trees. Ticks can carry serious illnesses including Lyme disease, Erlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Although these diseases can be treated with antibiotics, there can be serious consequences if the disease is not diagnosed and treated early on. Prevention is the preferable alternative.
(1) The first step in prevention is to always use a repellent. Spray permethrin on clothing (shirt, pants, socks, hat) ahead of time and allow it to dry before wearing the clothes. If you can, wear long pants tucked into socks and a long-sleeved shirt tucked into your pants. Apply a repellent with DEET on skin not covered by clothing. There is a good article about choosing an insect repellent at http://www.rei.com/expertadvice/articles/insect+repellent.html .
(2) When you get home, remove your clothes (in the garage or laundry room if possible) and wash and dry them. Or put them in sealed plastic bags until you can wash/dry them. Ticks may survive even a hot-water wash but will not survive a half hour in a hot dryer.
(3) Do a thorough check of your skin and hair for crawling or embedded ticks immediately when you get home from a hike. Use a mirror to check your back if you don’t have a partner to help. Remove any non-embedded ticks with your fingers, crush them, and disinfect your hands with rubbing alcohol.
(4) If you find an embedded tick, do not apply heat to it or try to smother it with soap, oil, gasoline, grease, etc. This will only make the tick regurgitate the bacteria into your body–the very thing you are trying to avoid. There is only one way to safely remove it. Use tweezers (or a tool for removing ticks) and gently grasp the tick by the head and lift straight up and out. Be careful not to squeeze the tick’s body or twist it during removal, since this may cause the tick to regurgitate more bacteria into the wound. Disinfect the bite site thoroughly with soap and water, rubbing alcohol or iodine. If removed in the first 24 hours, disease transmission is not likely. The risk increases dramatically after 48 hours. If you think the tick may have been embedded for over 24 hours, bag the tick and place it in the freezer. Then watch for symptoms, which may include fever; a flu-like illness; or persistent redness, swelling, or rash at or around the tick bite. Symptoms may not appear for 2 or 3 weeks. If they do occur, seek medical attention immediately and take the frozen tick with you.
Other good information on ticks can be found at:
Chiggers or “red bugs” are the larvae of mites. In Florida they can be active all year round. They are most abundant in areas of tall grass and weeds or at woodland edges. Chiggers can cause intense itching and reddish welts on the skin, but here in Florida, unlike other parts of the world, they are not known to transmit disease. They attach themselves to parts of the body where clothing fits tightly (waistline) or where the skin is thin (ankles, behind knees, groin, armpits) by inserting their piercing mouthparts. Then they inject a fluid which dissolves tissue, which they suck and feed on. The fluid causes welts to appear which may last for up to two weeks–or more if your scratching introduces a secondary infection.
To prevent chigger bites: (1) Wear protective clothing and insect repellents in the same way you would for ticks. In addition, sulfur powder (flowers of sulfur, sublimed sulfur) dusted on clothing–boots and socks, waist area, and bottoms of sleeve openings–seems to help. (2) As soon as you can, take a hot bath or shower, lathering with soap several times. (3) If symptoms appear, apply antiseptic to welts. Relief from itching may be obtained with antihistamines (oral or topical), calamine, or corticosteroid creams or lotions.
The effects of dehydration aren’t pleasant and are similar across all age groups, but children and people over 50 are more susceptible. Initially the symptoms are simply uncomfortable; but if allowed to continue, dehydration can lead to severe illness and death. Some of the symptoms (in order of common progression) are: thirst (not a reliable sign at high altitude or for older people), loss of endurance and appetite, apathy, difficulty concentrating, increased pulse, headache, loss of coordination, confusion, dizziness, delirium, and possibly death.
How much hydration is enough? Thirst is not an accurate indicator. The National Outdoor Leadership School recommends drinking 4 quarts (16 cups) of water per day for normal activity and 1 cup of water every 30 minutes during strenuous activity.
Optimizing when, how, and with what you hydrate can improve your chances of staying healthy and feeling good. The body can only process about a quart (4 cups) of fluid per hour, so it’s important to start out well-hydrated and maintain a steady intake during and after activity.
(1) Begin hydrating the day before to restore any deficiencies.
(2) At minimum drink 16-20 ounces of water or sports beverage at least four hours before activity. A sports beverage (and/or snacks) with electrolytes can help to stimulate thirst and retain fluids.
(3) Drink another 8-12 ounces of water 10-15 minutes before activity.
(4) Continue hydrating during the day at 15-30 minute intervals with 3-8 ounces of fluid depending on activity level, temperature and altitude.
Do not exceed a quart (4 cups) per hour or you risk hyponatremia (aka water intoxication), an electrolyte imbalance with nasty consequences. This is why it’s so important to hydrate regularly rather than try to play catch-up once you’re behind. Because it can be difficult, or impossible, to stay adequately hydrated during strenuous activity (you can lose 2 quarts per hour by sweating), it’s important to restore hydration when you stop. This could be at home, or in camp at the end of a day on the trail. The surest method: drink until your urine is copious and clear.
For your own safety and the safety of those with whom you’re hiking, know what heat exhaustion and heat stroke look like and know what to do:
Symptoms: Pale face, cool and moist skin, headache, weakness, dizziness, cramps, nausea, vomiting. Don’t ignore a headache when hiking in hot weather! This is serious stuff. Stop. Drink. Rest.
Treatment: Drink water with electrolytes, eat high-energy foods (with fats and sugars), rest in the shade for 30-45 minutes with feet elevated, and cool the body by wetting it. If nausea or vomiting prevent drinking fluids, get the victim to a hospital as fluids may need to be administered intravenously.
Heat Stroke — This is a life-threatening emergency
Symptoms: Flushed face, hot skin, weak and rapid pulse, high body temperature (above 105°), confusion, delirium, hallucinations, seizures, unconsciousness. Sometimes symptoms of heat stroke can mimic those of a heart attack or other conditions. Heat stroke may or may not be preceded by heat exhaustion. Exercise in a hot environment can cause heat stroke very quickly, and a person can develop heat stroke without ever being dehydrated.
Treatment: The heatstroke victim must be cooled immediately and rapidly!! Move the victim to shade and remove excess clothing. Continuously pour water on the victim’s head and torso; fan to create an evaporative cooling effect. If available, place Ice packs or cool cloths at the head, neck, armpits, chest and groin. Immerse the victim in cool water if possible. Vigorously massage extremities to return cool blood to the core. The victim needs to be evacuated to a hospital. Someone should go for help while attempts to cool the victim continue.
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