Hiking/Backpacking/Camping/A question about hiking
My Sister and I plan on going on a hike soon.Shes an avid hiker;this will be my first time.We plan about a 1-2 mile hike.We are both in good physical shape,so I don't expect the trip to be a problem .My Sister claims that the path we are going on had a lot of grassy areas,along with freshwater streams and creaks.Of course,we both plan on wearing the proper hiking clothes and shoes.However,my Sister says that when she comes across the grass/streams,she makes a regular habit of taking off her shoes and socks and walking barefoot through the grass.Also,she walks through the streams to get her feet wet.She loves doing this and tells me that I should do the same thing.Is this safe?
Dear David -
The hiking sounds like fun - a great activity to enjoy with your sister!
My first thought in reading your questions is ticks and Lyme disease! Lyme disease is practically an epidemic all over the US and on every continent except Antarctica, and is especially prevalent in the northeast, mid-Atlantic, and midwest (though it occurs in every single state). I think I saw you are in VA? That is one of the higher states for incidence of Lyme disease, and the CDC admitted this year that their previous estimates were probably off by a factor of 30 or more.
Any hiker needs to protect him or her self against Lyme disease. Recommended precautions include:
- Wear long pants and long sleeves with pants tucked into socks, and boots.
- Always wear bug spray outdoors, especially in grassy areas and woods - best are products that contain DEET - most natural products are not any good against ticks.
- Always do a thorough tick check when you come indoors - check every inch of skin, including the scalp (need a partner to do this well). Ticks especially like to crawl into tight, dark areas so check armpits and groin area very carefully. If you find a tick, remove it carefully with tweezers pulling parallel to the skin to ensure you get the full tick and don't leave the legs attached.
- If you notice any kind of a rash or any flu-like symptoms within a week or two after your hike, go see a doctor to be evaluated for Lyme disease.
So, given these precautions, the problem with removing shoes and socks is that you are less protected. Also, walking through water will wash off the bug spray.
I'm not trying to sound alarmist here, but I live in Delaware - I've had Lyme disease (took me 3 years to get rid of it) and my son has had Lyme plus two other tick infections for over 8 years now. He's been undergoing treatment for the past 3 years and is still a long ways from getting rid of it all completely. Almost every family we know here has had at least one member get Lyme disease.
It's not just Lyme disease anymore - ticks carry a half dozen other infections, too, many of which aren't well-known by most doctors. Treatment can be lengthy and expensive and the patient usually gets worse before they get better. Lyme can cause permanent neurological damage if left untreated. The screening tests for Lyme are all inaccurate - there is no good test - so diagnosis needs to be made based on symptoms.
I'm not trying to scare you - we still love the outdoors and camp and hike - but you do need to be careful out there. If we wade in a stream, we reapply bug spray afterward. Believe me, a serious illness like Lyme disease can change your life.
Here is information from Consumer Reports on the best bug sprays:
This article also includes some great advice on preventing tick bites.
Have fun out there - and be safe!