What makes you tick? Probably not ticks.
Since the late 1990s, reported cases of Lyme disease have tripled in number. And this year, after observing a spike in tick-borne illnesses across the country, scientists have reported this camping season could be the worst tick season in years. They give credit (or blame) to the white-footed mice, able carriers of Lyme disease, who are feasting on copious amounts of acorns to thrive in number and play host to ticks. Experts also say that warmer weather fueled by climate change allows ticks to remain active longer, with more opportunity to venture into places formerly too frigid—introducing their pathogens to new regions of North America. Even during a run of severe winter days, ticks are able to bury deeply into the soil to survive. Ticks are now most prevalent in the Northeast, mid-Atlantic, and upper Midwest. But everyone who plans to camp this summer should learn the facts about tick bites.
Make a fortress around your feet. Ticks don’t fly or land on you; they crawl up your body. Feet and ankles are the way ticks gain access to the body. Watch your legs, wear close-toed shoes, and use tick-killing repellants on both shoes and socks. And though it may be a nerdy look, try tucking your pants into your socks. Lyme disease is never in style!
Beware black legs. Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses are commonly carried by black-legged ticks, which are most active between May and July. Black-legged ticks have doubled in number in the last 20 years.
Repel the rascals. Use repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET, picaridin, or IR3535. Contrary to myth, DEET is not harmful.
Remove immediately. Don’t waste time trying to “coax” a tick off your skin or trying a folk remedy like Vaseline, nail polish, or burnt match heads. Grab the tick with tweezers as close as possible to the skin, and pull straight out.
Watch for symptoms. Sometimes contracting Lyme disease leads to noticeable symptoms: a bulls-eye rash at the site of the tick bite, facial paralysis, and even swollen knees. But it’s not always obvious, and could lead to chronic complications such as memory problems, heart arrhythmia, and debilitating arthritis. If you experience visible symptoms or any fever, aches, fatigue, and joint pain, it’s best to seek medical attention immediately. Early intervention decreases the risk of serious complications.
Scrub and soak. Take a shower, give your children a bath, and dry clothing on high heat for 10 minutes. Have a spouse or friend check your back, neck, and scalp.
In our final installment of camping safely, we explore how to cook safely so you can enjoy “al fresco” dining that’s not fraught with risk for food-borne illness. Keep these tips in mind while planning your menu.
Yes, you “can”! Canned goods are safe and shelf-stable. Plan meals that include peanut butter in plastic jars; concentrated juice boxes; canned chicken, beef or tuna; and dried fruit mixed with nuts.
Take temperature. If your menu includes burgers and hot dogs, make sure you have the proper equipment to keep hot foods hot, and cold foods cold! Besides the obvious equipment, such as portable stoves, make sure you have a food thermometer handy to determine whether your meat or poultry has reached a safe internal temperature. Ground beef may harbor Salmonella or E. coli, and only a thermometer can verify that patties are cooked to a minimum of 160 degrees F. Hot dogs should remain steaming hot.
Stay cooler. On the flip side (pardon the pun), keep perishables cool to stop contamination in its tracks. It’s thrilling to leave the dinner table by languishing under the sun with your meal; but remember: toxic bacteria multiply quickly within two hours, and within one hour on sweltering days. Pack at least two insulated coolers for your camping trip: one for drinks and snacks, and one for perishable food. Ice or frozen gel packs are a good idea, too. One last tip: pack coolers in reverse order, with food you plan to use first on top. That way you’ll avoid rummaging around to the point of disarray.
Sanitize hands and surfaces often; separate raw food from cooked. Roughing it outdoors shouldn’t mean throwing all caution to the wind; food safety is just as important in the great outdoors as in your kitchen.
Boil that beverage. Don’t rely on a lake or stream for your drinking water, no matter how clean it appears. If you’re not using bottled water, you should boil it for at least one minute.
Besides the 15 minutes of total solar eclipse in mid-August—a spectacle that’s worth a trip in itself—the sun will always factor into your preparations for safe camping. And while we all pray for a sunny day to explore the great outdoors, that bright yellow ball overhead can produce too much of a good thing. Overheating is a serious risk, especially for children and older adults. Keep your cool by reading our tips:
Consider hiking first thing in the morning or in the early evening, staying in shade or shelter during the most oppressive heat of the day (usually from 10 am to 4 pm).
Drink plenty of fluids. Tweak the old real-estate saying to “Hydration, Hydration, Hydration!” If plain water doesn’t excite you, add slices lemon, orange or mint; or bring an iced tea mix to enjoy. The key is to drink something; even coffee is better than nothing.
Spot the symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Goose bumps, skin tingling, muscle cramps, dull headache, shallow breathing and nausea are all warning signs of heat exhaustion, caused by the body losing salt through exertion and perspiration. In cases of heatstroke, the body’s temperature rises to 104 degrees, causing impaired mental states such as agitation, confusion, or lethargy. That’s because the nerve cells in the brain and body are the most vulnerable to heat damage. As heat stroke progresses, blood flow to the skin increases; which, coupled with copious amounts of sweat, poses serious danger to the heart. Avoid a medical emergency by spraying your camper with cool water and applying wet clothes or ice packs to the armpits or groin.
Keep your sunscreen close at hand! Avoid the red, sore, blistered or peeling skin that comes with severe sunburn. We’ve already reminded you to pack sunscreen—one that offers broad spectrum protection. Remember that sunscreen chemicals often degrade in the sun or rub off on towels and clothing; so re-apply frequently.