There is some general advice for outdoor activities, but hey – we’re mountain bikers, so we will hardly prevent tick bites by tucking long pants into socks because this is how we never want to ride. What shall we do to avoid dangerous diseases transmitted by those tiny evils?
Ticks are parasites surviving by feeding on birds, sometimes reptiles, but definitely on mammals, including bikers of any age. They’re widely spread around the entire planet, especially on warm and humid trails intended for spending the best biking holiday of the summer.
Despite their size of only a few millimetres, they pose a significant menace because they transmit dangerous infections like Lyme disease or tick-borne encephalitis. Both illnesses are bad enough to make you sick for a long time and even leave you long-term disabled. Cycling might become restricted for many months, and this is what you want to avoid.
The most favourable habitat for ticks is where high-grown grass or meadows meet woodlands, which is exactly where we spend a lot of time riding. Ticks are lurking around the trails, detecting odours or sensing body heat, moisture and vibrations to see us coming. Any time you stop and sit on the ground, ticks sound the alarm. Using all of their eight legs, they run for their lives since they need our blood to move from one stage to another. As soon as they feel us close enough, they embark on our skin or clothing to have a ride. This is just the beginning, the worse is yet to come.
The tick either attaches or wanders around looking for softer skin – guess where it might be. As soon as it finds a suitable spot, it grasps the skin and cuts into the surface using its cutting jaws. Eventually, a harpoon-like structure near the mouth area is deployed to anchor itself firmly in place on us for sucking blood. Is there a way to prevent this from happening?
The bad news is that the best time for the most efficient vaccination against tick-borne encephalitis is in winter or early spring as you need to get three shots in order to gain long-term immunity against the disease. The good news is that even a single vaccination shot starts to be effective after 14 days. Ask your doctor about details.
What to wear
Light-coloured apparel is advisable as it makes the ticks more visible. Cycling kits made of Lycra are better because the smooth fabric might thwart the tick’s attempt to hold onto you. If you want to take a rest in the grass, sit on a jacket or any kind of layer that would create a barrier.
Use repellents and vitamin B
There are two basic kinds of repellents: ones containing synthetic DEET and organic ones without it. The DEETbased repellents are more effective, but should not be used on bare skin since they might cause irritation or epidermal reactions. Several studies proved that people with a high level of vitamin B in the blood are less likely to get bitten by both mosquitos and ticks. The scientists just didn’t agree if it’s caused by the hormones triggered by the vitamin or simply by the fact that insects are repulsed by the traces of the vitamin in human sweat. For the same reason, drinking beer is recommended because it’s rich in vitamin B. Our grannies used homemade repellents made of rosemary, lavender and cloves.
After coming home from the outdoors, check your body thoroughly: most importantly behind the knees, your armpits, your scalp, navel, groin, buttocks and back. The longer the tick remains attached, the greater the risk of getting Lyme disease, so early removal might prevent the transmission.