At least two dozen tiny nymph ticks clung tenaciously to my ankles and legs by the time I checked halfway through my hike. That was two and half weeks ago. Now I’m suffering the effects of tick-borne illness including a miserable rash extending from my ankles to my thighs.
When I found the ticks, they were so small that there was no way I could remove them properly, I just scraped them off my leg. Only one made it overnight. Soon the bites turned into itchy blisters driving me to madness. Then they became disgusting, red, and oozing sores.
As if that wasn’t enough, exactly two weeks later, a new rash revealed itself, filling in the space between bites. I also had a number of headaches and painful muscles aches in the days preceding the new rash. Googling my symptoms, I knew it was time to see a doctor.
I left the clinic with Prednisone and Doxycycline, but no definitive diagnosis of which tick-borne illness ailed me. My research leads me to think it may be Rickettsia parkeri, a disease resembling Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, but with blister-like lesions at the bite location and less severe symptoms.
Four days later, the rash is still raging, keeping me awake at night and nearly bringing me to tears at times. The Prednisone only marginally helps and then only for a few hours.
Being an outdoor-adventure blogger, I felt the need to share my misery so that you may learn from my misfortune. Take it from me; prevention is a far better strategy than treatment. I’m even sharing a very unflattering photo to get your attention.
I usually wear long pants while hiking in Florida. However, the mosquito population was down and I thought frequent checks of my white socks would reveal ticks before they could latch on. I was wrong. These “nymph” ticks were so small I never saw them until I pulled back my socks and looked very close. A telltale itch was the only clue. I don’t react well to DEET products and I couldn’t find my natural spray that day, being an idiot, I headed out anyway. I had a classic case of “it can’t happen to me.”
Here are suggestions from the Florida Department of Health on prevention of tick bites:
- Apply repellent such as DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide), picaridin, or IR3535 to prevent ticks from attaching to your skin. Repellents with permethrin can be used on clothing, shoes, tents, and gear. Always follow product instructions!
- Dress so your skin is covered in light-colored clothing when you are in an area when ticks might be present.
- Walk in the center of the trail.
- Check your body and your child’s body for ticks after spending time in a place where ticks are likely to be found.
- Shower soon after being outdoors. Showering within two hours of coming indoors has been shown to reduce your risk of being bitten by a tick.
- Check your pet for ticks. Talk to your veterinarian about products that keep ticks off your pets.
- Prevent tick infestations around your home by landscaping your yard to be a tick-free zone.
- For more information, see Prevention of Tick-borne diseases
If all of your efforts to avoid the nasty scum fail, try to remove the ticks properly to minimize the chance of disease transmission. Here is a good resource on How to Remove a Tick
While Lyme disease gets a lot of press, it’s not the only tick-borne illness out there. Seek treatment if you develop fever/chills, aches/pain or a rash following a tick bite. Also, don’t forget to tell the doctor about your exposure to ticks. Treatment for many of the illnesses is the same.
I hope I have enlightened you and not just grossed you out. I’ve been bitten by ticks many times, but never thought I would become a tick-borne illness statistic. I hope my warning will make you take tick seriously on your next outing so that you may come home with nothing but great memories and pictures.