Tick Bites and Running: What You Need to Know
If you’re a trail warrior, the chances are good that you’ve either flicked a tick off of your own skin post-run, or that you’ve at least heard about the potential dangers of tick bites, including Lyme disease. And while there’s certainly no need to panic or avoid the trails for fear of these creatures, it never hurts to arm yourself with knowledge.
So here, in short, is everything you need to know about running and tick bites.
What is a tick?
Ticks are small ecto-parasites of the class Arachnida that feed on mammal-, bird-, reptile- and amphibian blood. They are divided into three different families, namely hard ticks, soft ticks and the Nuttalliellidae, and consist of over 900 species. Ticks are widely distributed across the world, but generally flourish in regions with warmer, humid climates. Because of their ability to ingest blood, ticks are vectors of a minimum of twelve diseases that can negatively affect both humans and animals.
Not all tick bites are harmful
It’s important to note that not all ticks bite humans and that not all tick bites are harmful to humans. Some bites are mild and very easy to treat, with no serious or long-term consequences to the patient.
The flip side of this is, unfortunately, that some tick bites can have serious consequences. Why? Well, as was mentioned before, ticks may carry a whole range of different diseases. And while not every tick that you (or your four-legged running buddy!) come into contact with will be a culprit, it’s good to be aware of the potential dangers.
Some of the more serious illnesses associated with tick bites
Some of the more serious illnesses associated with tick bites are:
- Lyme disease. This disease is caused by a bacteria that is transmitted to humans through a bite from an infected black-legged or deer tick. The tick must be attached to a person for at least 24 hours in order to transmit the bacteria, and symptoms may take anything from 3 to 30 days after the bite to appear. In addition to the general tick-bite symptoms detailed below, the following more serious symptoms may also manifest: Arthritis, with severe joint pain and swelling; drooping of one or both sides of the face; heart palpitations; and inflammation of the brain and spinal chord.
- Ehrlichiosis. This disease may have the following symptoms in addition to general tick-bite symptoms: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, confusion, loss of appetite and/or a cough. In some cases symptoms may be mild, with no medical intervention required. Untreated, severe ehrlichiosis with persistent symptoms may , however, result in hospitalization.
- Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness (or STARI). In addition to general tick-bite symptoms, STARI also causes a bull’s-eye lesion around the site of a Lone Star Tick bite. This lesion usually develops within 7 days and may grow to 3 inches in diameter or more.
- African Tick Bite Fever. This is an acute febrile disease that is transmitted through ticks carried by ungulates in Sub-Saharan Africa and the French West Indies. Symptoms include headaches, neck-ache and swollen lymph nodes.
General tick-bite symptoms
And while these are some of the worst case scenarios, many patients also experience, to some degree, the following general tick-bite symptoms:
- Intense headaches
- Swollen lymph nodes
- General aches and pains
- A rash
Play your part in preventing potential tick-borne illnesses by taking the following precautions when you hit the trails:
- Arm yourself with knowledge. Find out which ticks occur in your region, and whether these species may carry some of the serious illnesses listed above.
- Use tick-repellent on your skin and clothes. Be sure to apply this before heading out.
- Wear long sleeved tops and pants, where possible.
- Stick to frequently-used paths.
- Stick to the center of paths and try to avoid brushing against overhanging grasses and plants.
- Do a top-to-toe body inspection in front of a full-length mirror immediately upon returning home. Pay special attention to the scalp, backs of the knees, armpits, groin area, belly button and the area behind the ears. Taking a bath or shower directly after finishing your run may also increase your chances of timeously spotting and removing any ticks.
- Remove any ticks from your skin as soon as possible. Remember that it is vital to remove ticks within 24 hours of your run. Firstly, take a pair of fine-tipped tweezers and grab hold of the tick as close to your skin as possible. Steadily pull the tick up and away from the skin at a right angle. Be sure not to twist or yank the tick – this might cause its head to stay behind in your skin. If the head does stay behind, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers, if possible. Thoroughly clean the bite wound with antiseptic, and flush the tick down the toilet or immerse it in alcohol. Never crush a tick with your fingers.
- Carefully check all your gear for ticks immediately upon returning home. Washing your gear in warm water post-run is also a good idea.
- Consult your physician if symptoms persist or get worse. Also visit your doctor if you suspect that you might have a serious tick-borne illness.
- If your canine running companion joins you on your run, take the following precautions: Apply pet-friendly tick repellent before heading out. Carefully examine your dog’s fur upon returning home. Remove any ticks as soon as possible. Use the same removal method as detailed above.
It’s also good to note that, although there currently is no vaccine available against Lyme disease, the FDA recently gave the green light for the testing of a potential Lyme disease vaccine, namely VLA15, on adults in both Europe and the US. Hopefully this will speed up the process of making the vaccine available to the general market.
So if you love hitting the trails for your weekly running fix, be tick savvy. Arm yourself with knowledge, take the necessary precautions, and take quick and efficient action when you do discover a tick on your body post-run. And remember to always seek professional medical help when in doubt.
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