I have tramped the woods and fields of this region since the age of three or four and don't recall ever having seen a tick while participating in any outdoor activity until maybe three or four years ago.
Since then, ticks seem to have become a constant concern and were particularly bad last fall. From what I've seen and heard so far, these pests appear to be more prevalent than ever this year, probably due to the mild winter we just experienced. This heavy infestation means anyone spending time outdoors should take extra precautions to avoid a tick bite.
Keeping arms and legs covered whenever possible by wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts is a good start. Wearing light-colored clothing will also make it easier to spot a tick that might have hitched a ride. Applying insect repellant to pants cuffs, socks and shoe tops will also deter ticks. One product that has come highly recommended to me as a tick repellant is a clothing treatment from the Sawyer company called Permethrin. It is a spray-on product the comes in either an aerosol can or a trigger spray bottle that should be applied to clothing and allowed to dry before wearing. Be sure to follow the package directions carefully when applying the product, especially being careful not to inhale or get it on bare skin. When properly applied, Permethrin is supposed to be effective for as long as six weeks or six washings and can be used on tents, portable blinds and other outdoor gear.
Regardless of any precautions against ticks that are taken in the field, make sure to check yourself thoroughly after returning home. While being bitten by the larger dog or wood ticks, the greatest health threat can come from the tiny deer tick, which is the pest that is most likely to transmit Lyme disease. Deer ticks are only about one-sixteenth of an inch long. If you find one of them attached to your body, it is important to have it removed and seek medical attention as soon as possible, because it generally takes 48 hours or more for the tick to pass the infection to its host.
I happened to suffer my first tick bite last November while hunting on the first day of bear season. While showering the following morning, I discovered the tick attached to my hip. I can say it was an unsettling experience at first, but a few hours later, a friend deftly extracted the creature with a nifty little device designed for tick removal. These tick remover tools can be found at most pet supply stores for a few dollars and are well worth adding to your outdoor gear. When removing a tick, however, remember it is vital to do so carefully and extract the head completely from the skin.
Several incidents of rabid animals in our area last summer should be cause for a heightened awareness of this dreadful disease. Skunks, raccoons, foxes, bats, coyotes and groundhogs are the animals most often infected with rabies, but any mammal can contract the disease as evidenced by several folks who were bitten by a rabid beaver near the city of Philadelphia last year. All pet owners should be vigilant in having their animals vaccinated against rabies.
Everyone enjoys viewing wildlife, but it is always wise to use discretion and common sense when doing so. Do not try to approach any animal that appears to be sick or acting strangely. This is especially true for typically nocturnal animals, such as skunks or raccoons, if they are found roaming about in the daytime.
Rabid animals will sometimes exhibit aggressive behavior during some stages of the disease, so giving a suspicious critter a wide berth is always a good idea. If possible, notify a wildlife conservation officer or the police to dispatch the animal.
The early spring this year seems to have produced a bumper crop of poison ivy in many areas. Although far less insidious than some other summertime nuisances, getting a rash from this three-leaved irritant is no fun, so keep an eye out for it.
And of course, don't forget to use sunscreen whenever you are outdoors this summer. Skin cancer is the most common form of that disease, and using discretion to sun exposure is always advisable.