There is much to consider when planning for a comfortable, successful, and safe hunt. We think about our own needs such as food, water, and clothing. We plan to keep our firearms and bows operational. We consider all the big problems we may face and plan to tackle them, but what about the small problems, such as ticks? Ticks are nasty little creatures that have a taste for blood and they are not picky about what type of host sates their appetite. Once a tick makes its way onto you and takes hold, you are put at risk of contracting the many diseases ticks carry. Some of these illnesses are well-known and have been around for ages, such as Lyme disease and Ehrlichiosis, but new, emerging threats are on the horizon.
Among the newer tick borne illnesses is the Heartland virus. Having emerged in Missouri in 2009, the Heartland virus infected two individuals at that time. Both were ill with fevers but went on to recover. In 2013, five Missourians were affected by this virus which caused symptoms such as fever, loss of appetite, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, nausea, diarrhea, and low white blood cell counts. Four out of these five people had to be hospitalized but all made a full recovery. The Lone Star tick has been found to carry the virus and research is ongoing but it has been determined that ticks become infected upon biting an infected host and can then transmit the virus to humans they bite afterward; it is not known if the virus can infect other domestic animals. There are no tests to confirm infection at this time though future research aims to establish such tests.
Tick borne illness doesn't just stop there; it goes on to include Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Tularemia, and Q-Fever as well, but very concerning is a new possible threat on the horizon called the Bourbon virus. Though it has only appeared in Kansas as of now, that is close enough for it to get on the radar of Missouri whitetail hunters. After receiving tick bites, a man fell ill last spring. Blood was drawn and it was determined that a virus previously undiscovered in the United States was present. Symptoms included fever, chills, nausea, diarrhea, and weakness. Antibiotic treatment was unsuccessful and there was a decline in white blood cells and platelets. As of now it is not known if this is a severe reaction to an illness that has been around for some time or if the virus has mutated and recently become more deadly. Only time and more research will be able to answer question such as this, but the need for a closer look at this illness is real.
Photo: Albany Mosquito Squad
Ticks are generally far less of a threat during the cold winter months than in the warm months when they are at their most active and plentiful. Regardless of temperature, deer are hosts for ticks and it is possible for a tick to move onto you from a recently harvested animal. Because of the presence of ticks, it is important to protect yourself from tick bites when in the field. When it comes to bites from these creatures, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Since scent is a concern for whitetail hunters, it is best to use Permethrin as a tick repellant. It has no scent and does a fantastic job of repelling not only ticks but other insects as well; it is actually used in many pest repellants for livestock and other animals. In fact, it is also in Frontline and K9 Advantix which should be used on hunting dogs as well as pets to prevent them from suffering tick borne illness. In addition to repellants, thoroughly check yourself and your hunting dogs after each hunt, especially before going back in the house. Be sure to leave no area overlooked as ticks prefer warm, moist areas and can be hard to see; even bites may not be noticed as they occur.
Photo: Worms and Germs
If you find a tick, remove it as soon as possible, but attempt to identify it in the process. Removal should be done with tweezers grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible. Pull gently and consistently upward, taking care not to twist as this could result in the mouthparts being left in the skin. Should this happen, remove those with the tweezers. Removed ticks should be disposed of in sealed containers or by flushing down the toilet. Should you notice skin irregularities or illnesses that coincide with a tick bite, seek prompt medical care and advise your health care provider that you have been bitten.
Though unpleasant, ticks are something we must deal with before, during, and after hunting season ends. Take care to protect yourself and your hunting dogs, preventing illness before it occurs and reporting anything strange to medical professionals. They can not only care for you but possibly use your experience as an information gathering tool to ultimately help others as well.
Have you ever contracted a tick borne illness? How was it handled? Let us know in the comments!