A true story about when knowing better and doing better are …. just different.

Guest blog by Heather Hopkins

Let me just begin by saying: I KNOW BETTER!  I know it’s important to protect myself against ticks. I have permethrin-treated socks in my drawer.  My sneakers are sprayed with permethrin every month.  I know I need to tuck pants into socks and my shirt into my pants.  I grew up in Rhode Island, living in the woods, hiking and biking and doing tick checks for as long as I remember. I always carry duct tape and a lint roller in my car.  I preach to the kids the importance of being TickSafe.  Long story short: I KNOW BETTER.  But on August 29th I was dramatically reminded of the difference between knowing better and doing better. I SCREWED UP! 

You see, we had a crew in from Insect Shield, here to shoot some tick prevention education videos.  I was not in the videos, simply helping behind the scenes. It was to be a hot humid day in RI and I knew I would be out in it for most of the day.  Sitting under the front seat of my car were my permethrin-treated sneakers.  In the center console were a pair of Insect Shield socks. But on my body was a loose-fitting sundress and on my feet were flip-flops. I am one of those crazy people who wears flip-flops all year long in Rhode Island. I have winter flip-flops with a thicker sole, so I don’t sink into the snow, and my lighter summer flip-flops.  It takes a lot for me to choose to put real shoes on my feet but on this day, as we went in search of ticks, it would have been a much smarter move. 

Now picture this.  We get out of our cars in the little parking area, and my boss, Dr. Thomas Mather…a.k.a. the TickGuy…leads the way down a wide grassy path into the woods. This is a well-maintained Land Trust property and looks rather safe. I am being smart and staying in the middle of the trail as Dr. Mather drops his flag to see if he can collect any ticks. Within 10 feet of the trailhead, we stop to look and on the white flag there are literally thousands of tiny larval ticks–lone star ticks–just beginning to spread out from quarter-sized clumps…like a tick bomb exploding. I am now in the beginning phases of questioning my choice of attire. “That was A LOT of ticks.“  I don’t know if I have ever seen that many and they are so tiny.  But I am apparently still not smart enough to walk back to the car and put on more protective clothing; we proceed on. 

Over the next hour, with tens of thousands of tiny translucent pepper-flake sized larvae stuck to several feet of duct tape, Dr. Mather exclaims “can you even imagine how many ticks we likely are walking on right now?”  Still, not enough for me to smarten up and get out of there.  I just keep checking my legs and arms (since I am also leaning in on the flag to take pics and I know they could climb on my hands and arms).  I see nothing. When I get home, I immediately throw my clothes in the dryer, take a shower, and do yet another scan of my body. Nothing—maybe I’ll be fine.

That night, lying in bed I start itching up a storm but I’m not sure why.  I think maybe there is sand in my sheets, and I make a mental note to change sheets in the morning.  After a rough night of itching, I get up and decide to take a closer look.  Now, my belly, legs and arms seem to have gained some freckles, darker than my normal freckles. I am COVERED in larval lone star ticks. Grabbing my pointy TickEase tweezers, I start frantically pulling ticks off. Once I am pretty confident I’ve gotten most of the ones I can see, I go to my 15 year-old who takes another 20 or so off my back.  Collectively, the tick head count is around 100.  I spend the next 24 hours itching and scouring my body.  On Wednesday, a couple more ticks, now larger than the others show up.

I feel deflated (not from the ticks, but because of them). I knew better but chose not to do better and the result was pulling a ridiculous number of larval ticks off me.  And if that wasn’t enough, a week later I’m still covered in an itchy rash.  Not sure if it is from the tick bites or maybe something else?  Off to the Dr. to get tested for tickborne illnesses. I know knowledge is power, but knowledge is useless if you choose not to properly implement it. 

The take-away: DON’T BE LIKE ME.  Know better AND do better.  Don’t go strolling through the woods willy-nilly in your sundress and flip-flops especially in larval tick season (or any tick season).  Maybe I made the mistake so you can learn from it and protect yourself better. I hope so…

Heather is a Project Manager for TickEncounter, and really does know better. But like her boss, the TickGuy, everyone slips up occasionally.