Tick, Tick, Tick: RVers Face a Worsening Tick Menace

Ticks continue to present an increasing risk to RVers and their pets. This is what you NEED to know going into Tick Season 2023…

Tick season 2023 is underway, and it’s not looking too great for RVers and their pets. Tick territories are continuing to spread across the states and a mild winter in some states means even more ticks.

As if that’s not bad enough, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns the public that it’s not just Lyme disease we need to worry about. There’s a significant increase in another type of tick-borne disease called babesiosis.

BUT! Don’t go canceling your camping plans! Ticks have always been a part of camping and always will be. You just need to know what to watch for and how to prevent and treat tick bites.  So, don’t let these tiny creatures ruin your camping plans. You and your pets will be okay if you take the following necessary precautions. 

Hyness, Massachusetts (a state with a high frequency of ticks that transmit Lyme Disease) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tick season 2023 forecast

Tick season forecasts for the past few years have not been comforting and tick season 2023 is no different. Species of ticks continue to widen their territories and another mild winter in some parts of the country favors the ticks flourishing this season.That means like in previous years RVers need to be on high alert and take preventative measures seriously. Plus, they need to do body checks and know what symptoms to watch out for after they spend time outdoors.

What months are tick season?

According to the CDC, tick exposure can occur year-round but ticks are most active during warmer months (April-September). They’re known to be most active in spring but again the season lasts through summer and even into the fall.

Tick season is typically over once temperatures drop below freezing in the fall. In milder climates, like California, ticks are active year-round.

Wolfeboro, New Hampshire (a state with a high frequency of ticks that transmit Lyme Disease) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Regions where ticks live

Technically speaking, ticks live everywhere in the United States including Hawaii and Alaska. However, there are several species of ticks and some (like the ones in Alaska and Hawaii) don’t present a problem to humans. 

The Lower 48 has the most variety of ticks including the problematic species that carry diseases that are harmful to humans. 

The best practice for every RVer is to review the CDC’s tick maps to see which tick species live in the areas they plan to camp in. The resource is very helpful.

When people ask about the worst regions for ticks, they’re really asking about the worst regions for tick-borne diseases. Although multiple tick species can transmit Lyme disease and other diseases, the worst culprit is the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis

The blacklegged tick, also known as a deer tick, is widely distributed across the eastern United States. If you want a rough idea of its territory, just draw a straight line down the middle of the U.S., and everything to the right is deer tick territory.

However, most deer ticks aren’t a problem beyond having to detach them from your skin. It’s the ticks in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the northeastern states you need to be most aware of. 

If you look at the CDC’s map of Lyme Disease Cases, you can easily see which states are home to the ticks that transmit Lyme disease the most. These states are:

  • Minnesota
  • Wisconsin
  • Connecticut
  • Rhode Island
  • New Jersey
  • Delaware
  • Pennsylvania
  • Maryland
  • Maine
  • New Hampshire
  • Vermont
  • Massachusetts
  • West Virginia
  • Virginia

Unfortunately, Lyme disease isn’t the only disease ticks transmit. And deer ticks aren’t the only tick species that transmit disease. And disease-transmitting ticks aren’t only found in the eastern half of the United States.

For instance, the Rocky Mountain wood tick and brown dog tick can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever and they live in Western states. The point is you should always be mindful of ticks when camping in the continental United States and Canada. 

Cliff Walk, Newport, Rhode Island (a state with a high frequency of ticks that transmit Lyme Disease) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other tick-borne diseases

Besides Lyme disease, there are two other main tick-borne diseases you’ll hear about: babesiosis and anaplasmosis. Babesiosis, in particular, is on the rise in eastern parts of the US as it is also transmitted by the blacklegged deer tick.

Babesiosis symptions

Symptoms of babesiosis infection may range from people not knowing they are infected to feeling like they have mild flu to life-threatening. Life-threatening is a scary term but only a minority of tick bites lead to disease and only a minority of those cases are life-threatening. So, again, I’m not trying to scare you; I just want you to be aware of potential risks. 

Symptoms, if any, can start within a week after a bite from an infected tick.

Flu-like symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Sweats
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania (a state with a high frequency of ticks that transmit Lyme Disease) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Aanaplasmosis symtyoms

Aanaplasmosis (and ehrlichiosis) are similar tick-borne illnesses that cause flu-like symptoms. Symptoms usually appear within 14 days after a tick bit. 

If treated quickly with appropriate antibiotics, you’ll likely recover within a few days. However, if left untreated or treated improperly, they can result in serious or life-threatening complications. 

Flu-like symptoms may include:

  • Moderate fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Muscles aches or pains
  • General feeling of being unwell
  • Joint pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
Gloucester, Virginia (a state with a high frequency of ticks that transmit Lyme Disease) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lyme disease symptoms

Lyme disease symptoms usually go beyond the flu-like symptoms of the previous diseases mentioned. The most notable difference is joint stiffness and muscle aches. 

The symptoms of Lyme disease vary. They usually show up in stages. But the stages can overlap. And some people don’t have symptoms of the typical early stage.

Lyme disease symptoms occur in three stages with the first stage usually happening within 3 to 30 days after a tick bite. 

Morse Farms Maple Sugarworks, Vermont (a state with a high frequency of ticks that transmit Lyme Disease) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stage 1

Early symptoms of Lyme disease usually happen within 3 to 30 days after a tick bite. This stage of disease has a limited set of symptoms. This is called early localized disease.

Stage 1 symptoms include:

  • Rash (single circle that slowly (and usually unpainfully) spreads from the tick bite site
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Joint stiffness
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Swollen lymph nodes
White Mountains, New Hampshire (a state with a high frequency of ticks that transmit Lyme Disease) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stage 2

Without treatment, Lyme disease can get worse. The symptoms often show up within 3 to 10 weeks after a tick bite. Stage 2 is often more serious and widespread. It is called early disseminated disease.

Stage 2 may include the stage 1 symptoms and the following:

  • Many rashes on other parts of the body
  • Neck pain or stiffness
  • Muscle weakness on one or both sides of the face
  • Immune-system activity in heart tissue that causes irregular heartbeats
  • Pain that starts from the back and hips and spreads to the legs
  • Pain, numbness or weakness in the hands or feet
  • Painful swelling in tissues of the eye or eyelid
  • Immune-system activity in eye nerves that cause pain or vision loss

Stage 3

In the third stage, you may have symptoms from the earlier stages and other symptoms. This stage is called late disseminated disease.

In the United States, the most common condition of this stage is arthritis in large joints, particularly the knees. Pain, swelling, or stiffness may last for a long time. Or the symptoms may come and go. Stage 3 symptoms usually begin 2 to 12 months after a tick bite.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia (a state with a high frequency of ticks that transmit Lyme Disease) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When to see a doctor

Most people who get Lyme disease don’t remember having a tick bite. And many symptoms of Lyme disease relate to other conditions. See your health care provider if you have Lyme disease symptoms. An early diagnosis and proper treatment can improve outcomes.

If you know you had a tick bite or might have been around ticks, watch for symptoms. If they show up, see your care provider as soon as possible.

Prevention is the best medicine

Though tick-borne illnesses are widely treatable if discovered and properly treated early, prevention is still the best medicine.

I also have another helpful article on ticks:

New River Gorge National Park, West Virginia (a state with a high frequency of ticks that transmit Lyme Disease) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Summary and FAQs about ticks

Q: Are ticks common while camping?
A: Yes, ticks are common in outdoor environments including camping areas. They thrive in wooded and grassy areas where they can easily attach themselves to humans and animals.

Q: Are all ticks dangerous?
A: While not all ticks are dangerous, some species can transmit diseases such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, or tick-borne encephalitis. It’s essential to be cautious and take preventive measures to avoid tick bites.

Q: How can I protect myself from ticks while camping?
A: To protect yourself from ticks, you can:

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and closed-toe shoes
  • Use insect repellents containing DEET or permethrin on exposed skin and clothing
  • Tuck your pants into your socks or boots to create a barrier
  • Check your body and clothing regularly for ticks especially in warm and moist areas

Q: What should I do if I find a tick on me?
A: If you find a tick attached to your skin, follow these steps:

  • Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible
  • Pull upward with steady and even pressure, avoiding twisting or jerking
  • Clean the bite area and your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizer
  • Monitor the area for any signs of infection or illness and consult a healthcare professional if necessary

Q: How can I prevent ticks from infesting my camping gear?
A: To prevent ticks from infesting your camping gear:

  • Inspect your gear before and after each camping trip paying attention to seams, folds, and crevices
  • Use a tick repellent spray specifically designed for gear, tents, and sleeping bags
  • If possible, wash your gear with hot water or tumble dry on high heat to kill any ticks or their eggs
Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia (a state with a high frequency of ticks that transmit Lyme Disease) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Q: Can I use natural remedies to repel ticks?
A: Natural remedies like essential oils (e.g., lavender, lemongrass) or herbal sprays may offer some repellent properties but they are generally less effective than DEET or permethrin-based repellents. It’s recommended to use EPA-approved insect repellents for optimal protection against ticks.

Q: Should I be concerned about tick-borne diseases while camping?
A: While the risk of contracting tick-borne diseases exists it shouldn’t deter you from camping.

By taking preventive measures, promptly removing ticks, and monitoring your health after potential exposure, you can significantly reduce the risk of illness.

Stay informed about the prevalence of tick-borne diseases in the area you plan to camp and seek medical attention if you experience any symptoms.

Remember, if you have any concerns or encounter unusual symptoms after a tick bite, it’s best to consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and guidance.

Worth Pondering…

I know runners who have suffered a tick bite and ended up with Lyme disease. I’ll take an angry moose any day.

—Don Kardong