Hiking is a great way to see and experience the great outdoors and get to know nature. It’s also good for those who want to stay in shape or get some fresh air away from the city. While hiking can be both a fun and healthy activity, there are problems that one can encounter as well. Among these problems are bug bites from creatures such as ticks and mosquitoes. These blood-sucking pests are annoying and primarily cause itching and other irritations; however, in some cases they may also bring the threat of harmful or even potentially deadly diseases. For this reason it is essential to make mosquito and tick bite prevention and mitigation techniques a priority while hiking.

Mosquitoes

Mosquitoes, particularly the females of the species, are blood-sucking insects that hikers will frequently encounter while outdoors. The word “mosquito” comes from the Spanish word for “little fly.” It is essentially a form of fly with six long legs and a long proboscis that protrudes from their heads. This proboscis is what they use to penetrate the skin and draw blood. Female mosquitoes feed in order to produce eggs, and can consume more than their weight in blood. They also need standing reservoirs of water in order to lay their eggs, and stagnant ponds are especially hospitable for them. They can see and smell their prey, and they can also find their targets by their temperature. They can also detect the lactic acid that is produced during exercise, as well as carbon dioxide that living things exhale by breathing.

In addition to the irritation of itching from mosquito bites, these pests can also cause diseases. The most devastating disease that mosquitoes carry is malaria, a tropical parasite which kills between half a million and a million people a year. Yellow fever is another dangerous disease that kills as many as 30,000 per year around the world. Mosquitoes may also carry Dengue fever which is responsible for an estimated 25,000 deaths per year worldwide. There is also the threat of various types of encephalitis, a potentially deadly series of diseases that affect the brain. West Nile virus is another dangerous disease that mosquitoes spread. While most cases of infection are relatively harmless, the virus can occasionally lead to deadly illnesses such as encephalitis or meningitis. A fifth of those infected may suffer a fever, rash, headaches, fatigue, and vomiting.

Fortunately there are a variety of ways to avoid bites by mosquitoes and to cope effectively with mosquito bites. Mosquitoes don’t like areas where temperatures drop below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, which means hiking during the winter significantly reduces the risk of mosquito bites. Light clothes and clothes that fully cover the skin will help to obscure a human being and make it harder for mosquitoes to find and bite them. Avoiding areas with bodies of water also reduces one’s risk of mosquito bites, and areas with even moderate wind speeds will repel mosquitoes, plus they also blow away exhaled carbon dioxide which confuses the insects. DEET-based insect sprays will also deter mosquitoes as well as ticks, as will oil of lemon eucalyptus. When applying both sunscreen and insect repellent, apply the sunscreen first. Clothes treated with permethrin will also keep mosquitoes away, but this chemical should never be applied directly to one’s skin. Mosquito nets are an effective solution when sleeping in tents. Eating garlic or lemons daily a few days before the hike will affect a hiker’s sweat in a way that will repel this type of pest.

In the event of a bite, hydrocortisone cream is an essential tool for relief from itching. Antihistamines are another solution that hikers can use to reduce itching and avoid the dangers of scratching at bites. Witch hazel, calamine lotion, aloe vera, white tiger balm, tea tree oil, and certain essential oils such as lavender, and even mud, are some of the other potential solutions that hikers can use. Even simpler natural remedies include soaking the bite area in salt water or rubbing the affected area with lemon peels.

  • CDC: Avoid Bug Bites: Click this link to read information the US Centers for Disease Control offers regarding protecting oneself from mosquitoes and ticks. It covers the prevention of both tick and mosquito bites by the use of proper clothing as well as chemical and natural repellents.
  • Repellent-Treated Clothing: This is a web page by the US Environmental Protection Agency regarding the use of clothes treated with permethrin, which is a repellent for both mosquitoes and ticks. Effectiveness, safe use instructions and clothes washing are some of the issues this page covers.
  • Pests in Gardens and Landscapes: Quick Tips – Mosquitoes: The University of California Integrated Pest Management website features a quick tips article about where mosquitoes live and their favorite habitats. The West Nile Virus, bite prevention tips, and repellents are among the subjects they discuss here.
  • When Mosquitoes Bite, Take Antihistamines for Relief: This is a Washington University Today article about how to deal with mosquito bites. It centers on the use of certain types of antihistamine medicine and it also talks about some of the potential consequences of scratching a mosquito bite, including bacterial skin infections.
  • Mosquito Prevention Tips: Look here for information from the Indiana State Department of Health about ways to prevent mosquito bites. There is also a short section for outdoor enthusiasts; however, the entire article is useful for hikers.
  • Guidelines for Preventing Mosquito Bites: Methods of protecting oneself from mosquitoes are the subject of this page by Washington State University’s Whatcom County Extension. It discusses subjects such as barriers, repellents, and chemical repellent safety, and at the end it includes additional links for reading.
  • Mosquitoes and Disease: Click this link to get to the New York State Department of Health’s website regarding mosquito-borne diseases. West Nile Virus and Eastern equine encephalitis are the subjects that this page covers. Finally there are more links at the end for visitors to get more information.
  • Preventing Mosquito Bites: Mosquito-borne diseases such as West Nile Virus and Eastern equine encephalitis, and their symptoms, are covered on this PDF document by the Government of Massachusetts. Readers will also find a large section for mosquito bite prevention tips as well as product safety advice.
  • Ohio Department of Health – Mosquitoes: This article discusses mosquito-borne viruses that occur in Ohio and those that mosquitoes may bring into the state. It also offers information about bite prevention, including outdoor situations that hikers will find useful.
  • USDA – Health Hazards: Bug bites are one of the many subjects that this page by the USDA Forest Service. The section for mosquito and tick bite prevention includes an extensive selection of tips and advice that is useful for outdoor adventurers.
  • Most Common Health Risks – Insect-Borne Diseases: Preventing bites by potentially infectious arthropods is the main focus of this Penn Medicine web page. At the bottom it also provides links to a number of diseases that mosquitoes can carry and pass onto humans.

Ticks

Ticks are 8-legged arachnid parasites that, like mosquitoes, feed on blood in order to survive. They prey on mammals (including humans), reptiles, birds, and amphibians, and although they cannot fly like mosquitoes, they can move from one animal to another, or situate themselves in ambush positions to crawl onto their prey. They can be identified by their eight legs, small heads, and large bodies that grow much bigger once they are engorged with blood. The largest ticks range from a sixteenth of an inch for larvae, to a quarter of an inch for the American Dog Tick, which is one of the largest. When found on human skin, they most closely resemble poppy seeds. Many are less than a quarter of an inch. Although ticks are also active in the winter, they prefer warmer, moister climates, and will dwell on leaves or leaf litter, in wood piles, and on vegetation in general. In general they are most likely to be found in forests or wooded areas, especially around populations of animals or areas where humans travel a lot. Ticks detect their prey by their carbon dioxide emissions from breathing, the ammonia from sweat, and the temperature that living things generate. They can also find their targets by detecting their movements.

Like mosquitoes, ticks are a potential vector for dangerous illnesses. One of the most famous is Lyme disease, which is passed by the deer tick and which can occasionally be fatal. Another tick-spread disease is meningoencephalitis, a disease that causes inflammation in the brain and can cause fatalities in up to two percent of all cases. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a well-known bacterial disease that ticks transmit to humans. Whereas up to a third of people who contracted the disease died before the invention of tetracycline and other antibiotics, the fatality rate in America is now around five percent. Tularemia is yet another bacterial infection that ticks can pass onto humans, and its mortality rate is as high as fifty percent for the most virulent strains when left untreated.

Walking in the center of a trail will keep a hiker at an optimum distance away from ticks by avoiding contact with vegetation, making the person less reachable. Light clothing will make it easier to tell if a tick has landed on one’s skin or clothing. Full coverage by clothing and sealing gaps in clothing will also make it harder for ticks to latch onto the skin and feed. Sealing gaps means tucking the legs of pants into socks, shoes or boots, and making sure that the shirt is tucked into the pants. Like with mosquitoes, repellents based on lemon eucalyptus or DEET can be applied to the skin to repel ticks, and clothes treated with permethrin will also keep them away. When washing clothes, drying the clothes first will deprive any hidden ticks of moisture and result in the death of the bugs by desiccation. If possible, put them in a dryer for ten minutes, and then the washer.

Because of the threat of tick bites, hikers should carry tweezers as part of their hiking equipment. In the event of a bite, it will be necessary to remove the tick from the skin. To remove a tick that has already bitten, use the tweezers to gently grab it by the head or as close to its head as possible, which means to grasp it at where it comes into contact with the skin. The goal is to remove the entire tick without leaving mouth parts or the head still stuck inside the skin, which could lead to an infection. Once removed, the tick should be stored and preserved for analysis in case it may have transmitted an infectious disease into the person’s blood.

  • TickSmart™ Tips for TickSafe Living!: Visit the University of Rhode Island’s TickEncounter Resource Center for an extensive guide to preventing tick bites. Interested readers will find a wealth of advice in the drop-down menus. There are also a quiz to test one’s knowledge about ticks and how to avoid being bitten.
  • Mosquitoes and Ticks and the Diseases They Spread: Visitors to this PDF article by the University of Notre Dame will find information about mosquito and tick bite prevention. It also covers some of the potential diseases that these pests can transmit to humans, as well as their feeding habits and tactics. Proper techniques for removing ticks are also covered.
  • Hiking Basics: Hikers will find this article by the University of Illinois at Springfield to be a useful guide for preventing and dealing with bites from mosquitoes and ticks alike. It also covers sun protection and poisonous plants.
  • Staying Safe on a Hike: Before heading on an outdoor adventure, hikers will find that visiting this PDF page by the University of Kentucky offers extensive advice that will make their trip more enjoyable and less hazardous. Making a first aid kit is the first topic it covers. Preventing bites by a variety of bugs including mosquitoes and ticks, as well as avoiding poisonous plants like poison ivy, are other subjects that hikers will find useful.
  • Prevent Mosquito and Tick Bites: Healthfinder.gov covers threats from both ticks and mosquitoes on this web page. There is a set of pages for basic information about bug bites, and then a more extensive “Take Action!” section that gives advice on how to prevent being bitten. While these sections are broken up into multiple pages by default, users can click “expand to full page” to see all the text on a single page.
  • Insect Repellent Questions & Answers: Click this link to go to a Questions and Answers page by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services that covers insect repellents. The necessity for repellents, when they should be used, how they work, and how to apply them, are among the questions that this document answers. Both mosquitoes and ticks are topics that this page covers.
  • Preventing Tick-Borne Disease: The Minnesota Department of Health features a page of tick bite prevention tips for hikers and people working outdoors. Proper methods for removing ticks, reducing the risk of tick bites, and high risk areas in Minnesota, are among the subjects that this document addresses. There is also a section with links to a tick management handbook PDF file at the end.
  • Tick Prevention & Protection: This narrow-width Texas A&M document is formatted for cell phone or tablet users. It includes pictures to go along with advice on how to avoid tick habitats, clothing tips that reduce one’s risk of bites, proper care for children, pets, horses, and clothes, and the proper and safe use of tick repellents.
  • Beware of Hitchhiking Ticks: This web page by Penn State Extension explains the potential dangers of tick bites, such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Prevention and removal tips are the main focus of this article.
  • Preventing Tick-Borne Diseases in Virginia: The Virginia Department of Health provides a wealth of information about ticks in this PDF-based brochure. It covers tick-borne diseases, and an identification chart that shows which types of ticks feed on humans. Proper tick removal tips and techniques to avoid, disease infection symptoms and treatment, and tick bite prevention tips are some of the many subjects that this document addresses.
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst: Tick-Borne Diseases: Those wishing to know what risks may come with tick bites can read this list provided by the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Each of this page’s many entries is accompanied by a link to another resource that offers more information.