Wednesday, April 16, 2014 · 5:52 p.m.

Five steps to protect yourself from ticks

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Area hunters are hitting the woods for spring turkey season, which means tick encounters are more likely. (Photo: Contributed)

Both turkey hunting and hiking season are in full swing. That means outdoors folks are more likely to cross paths with ticks.

Most of the time they're just a minor nuisance, but in a few cases, the little parasites can transmit some ugly diseases. Outdoor enthusiasts can take these five simple steps to reduce the risk of contracting many tick-borne diseases.

Ticks are often associated with one of two groups: hard or soft ticks. Hard ticks are often found in wooded, grassy or other densely vegetated areas, whereas soft ticks tend to reside in bird nests, on rodents and on bats. Although many ticks can make their way to people, no species of tick depends solely on humans for survival. Some species are quite host-specific or accept only a few closely related host species; however, because a female tick can lay anywhere from 3,000 to 11,000 eggs, this should not be taken lightly.

The best way to reduce the risk of contracting tick-borne diseases is to avoid tick-infested habitats in the first place. Because this is not an option for turkey hunters, hikers and other outdoorsmen and women, here are a few simple precautions.

Because most ticks crawl upward onto a host, tuck your pants into your boots and shirts into your pants.
For extra protection, tape such clothing junctures with duct tape, then twist the tape so that the sticky side is out and make one more wrap.

Wear light-colored clothing when possible.
This makes it easier to see ticks crawling around before they find their way to your skin.

Look for a repellent that contains 0.5 percent or more of permethrin.
This works as a great tick repellent and can usually be used on clothing. In fact, some products containing permethrin can remain bonded with clothing fibers even through laundering.

When you return from the outdoors, inspect all your clothing before going inside.
Once inside, do a thorough whole-body inspection and wash your clothing as soon as possible.

Don't forget to protect man's best friend.
Commercially available dog dips containing amitraz or permethrin can provide canines with tick protection for two to three weeks per treatment. For the very best tick prevention for canines, contact your local veterinarian and inquire about prescribed treatment options, most of which can now last for a month or more.

If a tick is found, it is recommended that the tick be removed as soon as possible and the affected area be disinfected immediately following the removal.

Research trials have shown that the best method to remove a tick is to grasp the tick close to the skin with fine-tipped tweezers, placing the tweezers close to and parallel to the skin so that you grasp the base of the tick's mouthparts rather than its body. Pull gently but firmly, straight away from the skin, until the tick comes free. Keep in mind that it's best to grasp the tick from its back to its belly, instead of from side to side—this helps prevent the tick's mouthparts from remaining imbedded in the skin. The sooner a tick is removed, the less chance it will transmit a disease to its host.

One of the most common diseases transmitted by ticks is Lyme disease. Other notable tick-borne diseases include ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia.

After a tick bite, Lyme disease may progress several weeks without signs of illness, making diagnosis difficult. Years of pain and physical and mental impairment can result if untreated. The other three diseases often show signs within two to five days of a tick bite. They may progress so rapidly that a day or two of delay in diagnosis and treatment may result in death.

If signs of severe or persistent headaches, fever, soreness or stiffness in muscles and joints, appetite loss, fatigue or a skin rash occur within three weeks after a tick bite, immediately contact your doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment is critical.

For more information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, click here.

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