Summer is the best time of year to go hiking, barbecue in the park, and hit the trails for your run. But while soaking up the green space will get you moving and boost your mood, the great outdoors still comes with its fair share of risks—like sunburns, heat stroke, and too many bugs to count.
These bugs include ticks, which have been spiking in numbers across the entire United States—and they’re carrying diseases with them, according to a recent report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The number of tick-borne disease cases in the U.S.—like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever—has more than doubled in the last 13 years, according to the report. What’s more, preliminary research from the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology finds that alpha-gal allergy—a red meat allergy caused by a tick bite—is a major trigger behind life-threatening reactions.
But fear of these critters shouldn’t keep you cooped inside for the rest of the season. In fact, if you take the proper measures, you can minimize your chances of ever having to deal with a tick bite. Here’s what you should know.
Get to know your surroundings
If you want to keep ticks away from your body, it’s helpful to know where they like to hang out. Grassy, brushy, and wooded areas are tick minefields—so if you love to go hiking, trail running, biking, camping, spends lots of time in your garden, or take your dog on a daily walk through the park, there’s a good chance you could be exposed to ticks. Be wary of wood piles, leaf litter, rock walls, and beach grass, too.
Does that mean you should completely avoid these areas? Not necessarily—but it does mean you should take extra precautions if you’re going to spend your day in this type of environment. Which leads us to our next point…
Load up on the right repellents
When it comes to repellents that truly keep ticks away, there are four active ingredients you can look for, according to the CDC. Aim for 20 percent or higher, since repellents containing 10 percent or less of an active ingredient may only protect you for a couple of hours:
- Oil of lemon eucalyptus
The best way to use one? Apply it to your clothing or exposed skin, but avoid spraying directly onto your face, near your eyes, or over cuts or irritated skin. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that repellents used on children should contain no more than 30 percent DEET.
Before you purchase a repellent, make sure it is approved by the Environmental Protection Agency, which you can search for here. The following options are all great choices for each active ingredient:
Protect your clothing and gear with permethrin
Another way to tick-proof your body (and surroundings) is to treat your clothing and gear with permethrin, a type of insecticide. In one recent study from the CDC, researchers exposed various permethrin-treated clothing samples to different tick species, including blacklegged ticks (or deer ticks), which carry the bacteria associated with Lyme disease. The researchers found that young ticks died in less than a minute after coming in contact with the material—and those that didn’t weren’t able to move properly.
You can either buy a permethrin solution and treat your hats, shoes, jackets, and camping gear up to 48 hours before you need tick protection or you can opt for pre-treated materials (like this pullover hoodie on Amazon), which are designed to last through many washes, says the CDC.
Embrace the full-body check
You’re not completely in the clear once you make your way back inside. If a tick does end up on your clothing or body, getting rid of it ASAP will minimize your chances of catching a tick-borne disease.
Your move, then, is to fully examine your body for ticks that may have hitch-hiked their way into your home. After you check your clothing for ticks, throw them in the dryer on high heat for at least 10 minutes (or a bit longer if your clothes are damp), suggests the CDC. This will ensure any stragglers are killed.
Then, hop into the shower to wash away ticks that aren’t already attached to your skin. Be sure to check under your arms, around your ears, inside your belly button, behind your knees, between your legs, and in your hair. Your pets are at risk, too, so carefully check them for ticks daily.
If you happen to find one attached to your skin, here is the right way to remove a tick.