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Ticks and Travel: What You Need to Know to Prevent Tick Bites and Illnesses

Researchers in Connecticut are warning that tick populations are on the rise this year, so you need to be especially vigilant—not just at home, but also while traveling. If your trips take you anywhere within North America, Europe, or Asia, you could be at risk for ticks and the many diseases they cause.

Ticks and Travel: What You Should Know

Ticks may be best known for carrying Lyme disease, but they also carry numerous other diseases, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever (found in the U.S.). If you’re traveling abroad, some ticks found in other countries carry other alarming diseases. The CDC has a good breakdown here of tick-borne diseases that you can pick up abroad, including hemorrhagic fevers and encephalitis.

Worst Destinations for Ticks

According to the CDC, “Lyme disease risk is focused in the Northeast, mid-Atlantic, and upper Midwest, with pockets of lower risk along the West Coast. Nearly 95 percent of Lyme disease cases occur in 14 states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin. However, the range of the tick that transmits Lyme disease also is expanding.”

Eastern Canada, Europe (click here for a map that shows which countries have ticks), and Northern Asia all have had incidents of Lyme disease, so use preventative measures when traveling to those areas.

A Hidden Threat in Your Hotel Room

You may already be checking yourself every time you go for a hike, but did you know that you could also pick up a tick in a hotel room?

Paul Curtis, a board-certified entomologist at Terminix, warns: “Ticks and fleas are an often-unexpected pest in hotels—most guests are not expecting to encounter these parasites, but many properties allow pets in rooms that can harbor unwanted hitchhikers. Unlike bedbugs, fleas and ticks can be vectors of pathogens that cause disease.”

You may want to be extra careful in a pet-friendly hotel, as dogs can easily pick up ticks and then transfer them to your hotel furniture.

Preventing Tick Bites and Illnesses

You should be most careful when you’re heading outside—this includes everything from hiking in the woods to lounging in an urban park. IAMAT, the International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers, advises:

  • “Use a repellent containing 20 percent to 30 percent DEET or 20 percent Picaridin. Re-apply according to manufacturer’s directions.”
  • “Wear neutral-colored (beige, light grey) and breathable garments, including long-sleeved shirts and pants. Tuck pants into socks.”
  • “If available, apply a permethrin spray or solution to clothing and gear.” (Here’s a good round-up of bug-repellent gear: What to Pack if You’re Traveling to a Zika Virus Zone).
  • “When hiking in wooded areas, stay in the middle of the trail and avoid tall grasses and shrubs.”
  • “Use a tarp when sitting on the ground.”
  • “Carefully examine your body, clothing, gear, and pets for ticks before entering a dwelling.”
  • “Apply sunscreen first followed by the repellent (preferably 20 minutes later).”

When you get home or back to your hotel, you should check your entire body and your gear for ticks, take a shower, and put your clothes in the dryer on high heat for 10 minutes if possible.

What to Do If You Have a Tick Bite

If you do find a tick on your body, follow the CDC’s advice for removal:

  • “Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.”
  • “Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.”
  • “After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.”
  • “Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.”

You may wish to keep the tick in case you would like to have it tested for disease later.

Warning Signs of Tick Diseases

The classic warning sign of Lyme disease is a red bullseye-shaped rash around a tick bite, but that does not happen in every case, so don’t dismiss your symptoms just because you don’t have a rash.

Fever, chills, aches, swollen lymph nodes, tiredness, headaches, and stiffness can all be symptoms caused by Lyme disease. Be sure to visit your doctor if you feel unwell, even if it is months after you were bitten.

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Caroline Morse is a Senior Editor with SmarterTravel. Follow her on Instagram @TravelwithCaroline and Twitter @CarolineMorse1 to see her adventures around the world.

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