Father and son hiking in the woods Family hikes, camping and other outdoor activities are great ways to stay active and spend time as a family, especially now, when physical distancing measures mean many favorite indoor activities are still off-limits. When spending time outside in the summer, however, it’s important to protect yourself against another significant health threat: ticks.

What are ticks?

Ticks are tiny insects that instill big fears in both kids and adults — and for good reason. Blacklegged ticks (also called deer ticks) carry Lyme disease, the most commonly reported insect-borne illness in the United States.

Ticks attach onto a human or animal host and suck blood over several days. Preferring hairy areas, ticks often hide on the scalp, behind the ears, in the armpit and groin or between fingers and toes. Most people are infected by baby ticks. Abundant in the summer months in wooded and grassy areas, baby ticks are less than 2 millimeters long — about the size of a poppy seed — making them extremely difficult to spot on the body.

How do I prevent tick bites?

Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics, but it’s best to avoid getting bitten by a tick in the first place. Here are a few ways to protect yourself and your child from tick bites:

  • Avoid areas where ticks live. Walk on cleared paths and pavement, especially when hiking in wooded areas or fields with high grass.
  • If you do walk in the woods, cover as much of your skin as possible. Wear enclosed shoes, long pants, long sleeves and a hat, even in the summer.
  • Spray permethrin — a pesticide that kills black flies, ticks and mosquitoes on your clothes, not on skin, making sure to follow the product’s safety instructions.
  • Use insect repellents safely. Look for children’s insect repellants that specifically say they repel ticks. After your outdoor adventure, wash the repellant off with soap and water.
  • After coming indoors, check your family and your pets for ticks, and shower as soon as possible.

What if I find a tick on my child?

Regardless of how many precautions you take, ticks are sometimes unavoidable. If you do find a tick on your child, there’s no need to panic. Follow these steps to safely remove the tick and treat the bite:

  • Use a pair of tweezers to remove the tick. Grab it firmly by its mouth or head as close to your child’s skin as possible. Pull the tick up slowly — without twisting — until it lets go. If you don’t have a pair of tweezers, take your child to the nearest health care facility to have the tick removed.
  • Don’t use petroleum jelly, knives or a lit match to kill the tick.
  • Wash the bite area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water and apply an antiseptic lotion or cream.
  • Call your child’s doctor for further guidance. For more information about safe tick removal, check out these do’s and don’ts.

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