One of the main concerns people have with taking their children out into nature is a fear of all the creepy crawlies.
In fact, this fear can be so strong that it stops people experiencing nature all together, which is a huge shame. If your concern about ticks is stopping you from getting outdoors, below is all you’ll need to feel safer.
You’ll learn all about ticks and be more confident in how to avoid tick bites and how to remove them.
So, what is a tick?
Ticks are small arachnids that feed on blood—you’re feeling better already, right?!
Another way to say that is that they’re a little bug who needs blood to survive. You can hate them if you want, but they’re not out to get you, they’re just trying to survive.
Ticks are most likely to be found in warm, humid climates. Generally they will only be found in places where there’s a dense enough population of their preferred host species (kangaroos, birds, cattle etc.) and where it’s humid enough for them to reproduce.
They can’t jump or fly so you basically have to brush right past them on grass or foliage for them to climb onto you. (You’re feeling a teensy bit better now though, right?)
What harm can ticks do?
Generally all they do is latch on, have their feed and (if they haven’t been tweezed out already) drop off again. While they are capable of transmitting certain bacteria and viruses, not all ticks in an area will be infected.
Plus, the tick has to both attach to you and have a long feeding session for the disease to be transmitted. So in short, tick bites don’t usually lead to infection, especially if you remove them within a day and a half.
It’s worth doing a bit of research about ticks in your corner of the world just in case there’s a particular issue worth watching out for, and I feel like I should give a special mention to the good old Australian paralysis tick, whose venom can cause paralysis in non-native animals like our cats and dogs.
But as disturbing as that sounds, my kids and I have had them before and simply plucked them off with nothing to worry about.
How to remove a tick
Ticks anchor themselves in place with their special jaws, so removing them with your fingernails isn’t going to cut it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a fantastic webpage all about ticks. So seeing as I’m not a medical professional I suggest you always check in with them or another trustworthy health authority in your country for the latest tick removal advice, but basically, this is all you need to do:
- Get the fine-tipped forceps from the first-aid kit (only resort to your eyebrow tweezers if you don’t have anything else!) and grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible.
- Pull upwards with a steady, even pressure. You want to avoid any jerking or twisting that might make the mouthparts break off and stay in the skin (even if that happens though, it’s not a big deal, just leave it to heal on its own).
- After you’ve removed the tick, wash the site and your hands with soap and water.
If the tick is still alive, don’t squash it with your fingers. Flush it down the toilet, wrap it tightly with tape or put it in alcohol to kill it.
- If you develop a rash or fever in the following weeks, best to see the doctor just in case.
How NOT to remove a tick
There are heaps of crazy old-fashioned ideas floating around about how to get rid of ticks, but for the welfare of yourself and your kids, please ignore them!
There’s no need for matches, pins, methylated spirits, kerosene or anything else. If you can’t get the tick out on your own, simply see a health professional.
How to avoid tick bites
There’s no 100% guaranteed way to avoid every tick, but taking a few precautions will help significantly reduce the chances.
- Do some research on ticks in your area. Find out what types are around and what they look like and what time of year they’re most active. If there are certain heavily infested areas in your neighbourhood that might be best avoided during certain seasons etc. Try your local government authority, parks and wildlife service or similar (vets often know this sort of thing too!).
- Long sleeves and pants are great protection against ticks, sunburn, scratches and more. Tuck the cuffs of your pants into your boots or socks for added protection. Choosing light colours not only helps you see any ticks on your clothes, it will also keep you cooler in hot weather.
- Put insect repellent on exposed skin. A park ranger once told me she always puts it on her ankles and wrists too, even over her clothes.
- Once you get back home, check your clothes and body for ticks. Better yet, have a shower. This will help wash any roaming ticks away and give you a good opportunity to check yourself (and the kids) from head to toe.
- Once again, the CDC’s webpage on preventing tick bites is wonderfully comprehensive, so check it out.
Still not convinced?
You love your kids and you just want to keep them safe, I get it. But it’s important that we consider not just the cons of a tick bite, but that we weigh them against the cons of our kids not spending time in the outdoors.
The mountain of research about the incredible benefits of unstructured outdoor play on a child’s physical and mental health only continue to grow. So does the evidence that a sedentary, indoor lifestyle is correlated with an increase in many issues we’d rather avoid.
Don’t let these little suckers keep you and your children from enjoying all that nature has to offer!