Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Ticks in the Smoky Mountains can lead to Rocky Mountain Fever for Hikers and Campers.

I hike a lot in the Great Smoky Mountains national park - on average at least 10 -15 miles a day 7 days a week - year round so I am used to dealing with wildlife big and small. I have noticed that this year there seems to be more ticks in the backcountry of the Great Smoky Mountains than I have ever had to deal with before.

Though I have not found one on myself in more than a week I have removed 9 ticks from my skin and clothing this year after hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains national park. My previous record year was 6 where 3 of which were on the same pants leg in one day so obviously there is a higher concentration of ticks this year in the Smokies - or I must taste much better to them!

The ticks I picked up while hiking this year were from all over the place: Beard Cane Trail in Abrams Creek, Newton Bald Trail near Deep Creek, Grape ridge trail in Greenbrier, Hen Wallow Falls in Cosby, the field by Hyatt Lane in Cades Cove, Little Greenbrier Trail near Wears Valley, 20 mile loop trail in Twenty Mile, Hyatt Ridge in Straight Fork and one from my trunk where I keep my hiking shoes.

Smoky Mountain ticks

Every night when I get home I am sure to check myself for ticks, however all of the ticks I found on myself I found either in the field or in one case in my car while driving. While it is suggested to always wear long pants tucked into boots (some people even duct tape the pants legs), I usually wear light colored khaki shorts and long socks and look down at my legs often while hiking or check myself after going through high grass or brush.

Ticks - not black bears scare me. I moved from the northeast almost 20 years ago as Lyme's disease ran rampant up there. Lyme's disease which is spread by deer ticks kept me from camping and enjoying the great outdoors after watching fellow camper and hikers get deathly ill or disabled from the disease.

Unfortunately here in the Smokies we have a high instance of Rocky Mountain spotted fever which is spread by ticks. The key to reduce your risk is avoid areas that may contain ticks, use insect repellent, wear light colored clothing - long sleeves and long pants do help, and find and remove ticks as quickly as possible.

While there are old wives tales about tick removal, the only sure way is with the help of good tweezers. With the tweezers you can grab the head and remove the whole tick so the head does not break off and stay embedded in the skin.

You should wash the skin around the tick with an antiseptic and save the tick by placing it into a Zip loc bag and if possible freezing it with a date on the bag. If you get ill, bring the tick to the doctor or hospital so they can determine if the illness came from the tick by culturing the tick and what illness it was carrying.

The good news is that most people hiking or camping in the Great Smoky Mountains national park will never see a tick. Ticks are usually only very active in warmer weather.

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