Ticks and Nebraska Trail Running

We are trail runners. We run outdoors. Sometimes feel as though we are one with nature. We have the opportunity to enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the trails, through forests, long grass and along river banks. There are dangers though, in the form of blood feeding ticks and mosquitoes. These pests are not only a nuisance, but a public health concern due to the diseases they can transmit to us.

Ticks in Nebraska

Ticks can be active all year round, but in Nebraska, May and June are considered high tick season. Because we often travel out of state to run, we must also be aware of other potentially dangerous organisms and find a way to protect ourselves. Trail runners spent a lot of time outdoors training, racing, crewing, pacing and volunteering, sometimes days and nights in tick-infested areas. Many of us underestimate the importance of tick safety until we find one embedded in our scalp or knee pit.

About Ticks

Ticks are wingless, blood-feeding arachnids that are often encountered outdoors. They located hosts by waiting patiently with their front legs extended (called questing). When a host brushes against the claws of a questing tick, it latches on and begins to crawl upward. Once a tick has found a host, it cuts the skin with its saw-like mouthparts and drives a rigid feeding apparatus deep into the skin. Ticks are most often found on humans in the groin area, on the head/scalp, in the armpit and behind the knee.

Health Risks

There are a variety of vector borne diseases that are passed from infected ticks to both humans and dogs. These are species specific, which means that different species of ticks have the capacity to carry and spread the pathogens associated with that specific disease. Some human diseases spread by ticks include:

  • Lyme disease
  • Powassan virus
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
  • Anaplasmosis
  • Babesiosis
  • Tularemia
  • Ehrlichiosis
  • Heartland virus
  • Red meat allergy

Tick Removal

If a tick is found, the best and safest way to remove it is to use a pair of pointy tweezers, grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible and pulling straight out. The longer an infected tick remains attached to the host, the more likely it will transmit pathogens. It is recommended to keep the removed tick in case adverse health effects lead to medical attention.

Advice for Non-Trail Runners

Common recommendations to avoid tick bites include avoiding woody, grassy, or brushy areas, tucking pants into socks, and staying in the center of the path. However, as trail runners, this is not practical and defeats the purpose of our sport! I believe we can be as active as we want to be in order to accomplish our running goals, but still practice tick safety.

Tick Safety for GOATz

1. Perform Tick Checks

The best way to avoid a tick bite and tick-borne diseases is to perform a tick check periodically while outdoors and a thorough tick check of your person after your run or any outdoor activities. Check yourself at aid stations and in the portable toilet. Check all the places those intimate places that are warm and moist. (Yes, warm and moist, I’ll say it again.)

2. Wear Permethrin-treated Clothing:

  • For those who spend a lot of time in tick-infested areas, there is a Permethrin 0.5% clothing spray (brands include: Coleman®, Ben’s®, Sawyer, Repel®), which is very effective at protecting people from ticks. Permethrin is not safe for use on skin, but can be sprayed onto clothing, allowed to dry and then remain effective against ticks through multiple washings. It is a good idea to treat clothes, socks, shoes, and backpacks before long trail runs and ultramarathons.
  • There are also commercial, pre-treated clothing (brands include: Insect Shield®) that can be purchased from stores/online, designed to repel ticks for up to 70 washes.

3. Use Skin Repellents

  • Due to the biology and questing behavior of ticks, there are limitations to skin repellents, but they are part of the active fight against ticks. There are a variety of ways to apply them to skin, which include continuous aerosol sprays, spray pumps, skin wipes, and lotions (brands include: Off!® Repel®, Coleman®, Saywer, Ben’s®, Natrapel®, Cutter®, and Ultrathon™). The goal is to have thorough coverage on all exposed skin.
  • Two active ingredients shown to have repellency against ticks include DEET and Picaridin. Concentration levels can range from 5-100%, and this number indicates the longevity of the product, rather than the efficacy. I recommend using no less than DEET 25-30% or Picaridin 20% for any runs lasting 8 hours. If you’re in it for a longer run, be sure to reapply repellent.
  • Deets on DEET: Contrary to popular believe, DEET has been an effective insect repellent for over 40 years. Research has shown no adverse reactions to people or the environment when used according to label directions. For those ultrarunners running in places and times when mosquitoes are thick, it is better to reapply repellent after 8 hours rather than use a higher percentage. If you’re adding clothing in the evening, do not apply repellent to skin that will covered. Some people experience bad reactions to DEET, others dislike the odor and the oily/sticky feeling. DEET is also a plasticizer, so it can damage rubber, plastic, vinyl and elastic materials. This is very important because we have our GPS watches, sunglasses, cameras, rain gear, and trekking pole handles that we do not want to ruin if sprayed.
  • DEET-Free: Picaridin is odorless, safe on plastics, and does not feel greasy or sticky on skin. It can provide up to 12 hours of protection.
  • When using sunscreen and insect repellent, apply sun screen first and then insect repellent.

4. Carry duct tape or a sticky lint roller

Keep a roll of duct tape or a sticky lint roller in case you run through a mass of seed ticks (larval ticks) and need to remove them quickly. This is especially true when running through forests of Missouri where lone star ticks are prevalent and quite aggressive.

5. Dry your clothes when you get home

Put clothing in the dryer for 20-30 minutes to kill any ticks that may have hitched a ride home. Sometimes ticks climb off our shoes, hats, packs, and clothes and find their way to other family members in the home.

6. Consult your veterinarian

Consult your veterinarian for preventative canine treatments to protect your furry running partner from fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes (heartworm).

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