Adventure Safety Tips | How To Avoid Ticks (And What To Do If You Find One On You)

by | Aug 31, 2023 | Adventure, Featured, Outdoors, Safety, Safety

The seasons are changing and longer, warmer days mean a bigger risk of ticks for trail runners, mountain bikers and hikers, we have you covered.

The humble, diminutive tick can pose potentially big problems for outdoor adventure enthusiasts. These tiny arachnids (they are indeed not bugs) are often overlooked and can carry diseases that threaten human health. Read on for some effective strategies for preventing tick encounters, species to watch out for here in Southern Africa as well as what actions to take if you find a tick on yourself after an outdoor adventure.

Ticks In South Africa
Erik Karits / Unsplash

Understanding Ticks and Their Risks

Ticks are minuscule blood-sucking arachnids that thrive in grassy and forested areas, making them a common concern for all manner of outdoor adventurers (don’t think you’re safe on your mountain bike). The primary danger associated with ticks lies in their (potential) ability to transmit diseases. Among the illnesses they can convey to humans are African Tick Bite Fever, Lyme disease, anaplasmosis and babesiosis.

Preventative Measures

  • Strategic Dressing: Minimize exposed skin by donning long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and closed-toed shoes. By limiting access, ticks are less likely to latch onto your body. If you’re camping, this is particularly important after dark.
  • Effective Repellents: There are various natural products available, but many bush professionals (such as game rangers and farmers) still prefer repellents containing DEET. To enhance protection, use the products on exposed skin, clothing, gear and footwear.
  • Trail Adherence: Opt for well-maintained trails (where the grass is cut back) and steer clear of tall grasses and shrubs where possible as this is where ticks often await potential hosts (such as wildlife and cattle).
  • Regular Checks: Take brief breaks during your hike or run to thoroughly inspect both your clothing and body for ticks. Timely removal can thwart attachment and disease transmission. For men, it is best to be well-groomed – we’re talking road cycling style here. The less body hair, the easier to spot the critters and less places for them to hide.
  • Gear Treatment: After returning from your outdoor escapade, consider treating your gear, backpack and shoes with a product of your choice to prevent ticks from hitching a ride home. That mud bucket in which you dump your shoes in the load bay – spray that.
Amy Torbenson / Unsplash

How To Deal With Ticks

Discovering a tick on your body doesn’t automatically mean you’re in for a bout of tick bite fever. Stay calm and follow proper protocols. Here is what to do:

  • Fine-Tipped Tweezers: Use fine-tipped tweezers to grip the tick as close to your skin’s surface as possible. Pull gently, but with consistent upward pressure without twisting or jerking. Adequate removal diminishes the risk of leaving tick parts embedded in your skin. Don’t use castor oil, petroleum jelly or apple cider vinegar to ‘drown or suffocate it.’ or any other ‘home remedy’ for that matter. They are simply not as effective as early removal.
  • Hygienic Cleansing: Cleanse the bite area and your hands using a quality disinfectant, rubbing alcohol, or good ole, soap and water.
  • Save the Evidence: Take a photo of the tick. If that’s not possible, try to preserve the tick in a sealed container. This can aid healthcare professionals in identifying the tick species, potential disease transmission risk and treatment options.
  • Symptom Monitoring: Stay vigilant for unusual symptoms like fever, rash, fatigue, or muscle aches. If any of those hit you, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Melissa Brown / Unsplash

South Africa’s Tick Species

Several tick species in South Africa pose potential risks:

  • Blue Tick (Rhipicephalus microplus): Found predominantly in the eastern and northern parts, it affects livestock but can transmit diseases to humans, especially those in rural areas.
  • Brown Ear Tick (Rhipicephalus appendiculatus): Prevalent in the northeastern regions, it transmits diseases affecting cattle and might pose risks to humans in close contact with infected animals.
  • Bont Tick (Amblyomma hebraeum): Common in bushveld and savannah regions like Limpopo and Mpumalanga, it transmits African tick bite fever to humans.
  • Bont-legged Ticks (Hyalomma species): Found in livestock-intensive areas, such as Free State and North West provinces, they transmit diseases including Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever.
  • Hard Ticks (Ixodes species): Scattered across regions like Western Cape, Eastern Cape, and KwaZulu-Natal, they may transmit diseases like Lyme disease and spotted fever.

By adopting proactive measures – from appropriate clothing to diligent checks – you can significantly lower your risk of tick encounters. Should you find a tick, remember to remain calm, practice precise removal, and stay alert for symptoms.


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