Some years ago, a friend of mine who enjoys the outdoors - hiking, camping, canoeing, fishing - was asked if there was anything he DIDN'T like about being out in the wild. His response was classic: "If there's anything I don't like it would be what I call 'Mother Nature's revenge': ticks, chiggers and poison ivy."
Personally, I would add mosquitoes to that list since every time I go outside I can hear their tiny voices calling "Guys! Over here! O positive, extra sweet!" Insect repellent is my constant companion. I should own stock.
As I have obviously learned, a little planning ahead can let you enjoy all Missouri's outdoors has to offer with no unpleasant aftereffects.
Poison ivy has been found in every county in Missouri (poison oak is rare in the state and poison sumac has never been reported here). It's valuable food and cover for birds, but when it comes to people, it can cause an unpleasant rash. It's a year-round threat, so learn to identify it.
"Leaves of Three, Let it Be." There are a few other plants that look similar, so steering clear of anything with three leaves is the best option. However, if your child presents you with a bouquet of hand-picked greenery that contains stalks with three leaves, check the center leaf. If it has a longer stem branching off from where the stems for the other leaves meet, it's likely poison ivy. Since the plant's oil causes that itchy rash, wash any exposed area with soap immediately to avoid a reaction. Be sure to wash your clothes after a poison ivy encounter, since the oil can be transferred to your skin from fabric - or even your dog's coat.
Three species of ticks are commonly found in Missouri and all can carry serious illnesses that can be transmitted to people. The critters are most active April-July in woodlands, tall grasses, weeds and brushy areas.
The best offense against ticks is a good defense. Wear long sleeves and long pants tucked into socks; light colors make them easier to spot. Wearing Permethrin-treated clothes is the top line of defense and home treatments with it last through 4-5 washings. For exposed skin, use tick repellent sprays with DEET (they're the most effective), and check yourself thoroughly when you get home. If despite your efforts, you've picked up a nasty hitchhiker, use fine-tipped tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull up with steady pressure. Thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with iodine, rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
Chiggers are the blight you'll never see coming, they're that tiny. They like grassy, brushy or weedy areas, are most active in afternoons and are very common here. They prefer to bite where your skin is thin and tender and particularly like spots where clothing is tight against the skin. Their bites are insanely itchy, but - unlike ticks - they don't carry any harmful diseases. Protect your skin by covering as much of it as possible, applying insect repellents and bathing immediately after being out in the field. Applying fingernail polish to chiggers is a myth; they don't burrow, they bite and leave. Your best option for treating the bites is a topical corticosteroid.
So now that you've loaded up on knowledge of outdoor pests and prepared for them to the best of your ability, you're ready to head outside (don't forget the sunscreen) to enjoy every minute of your Missouri outdoor adventure!
Written by Barb Brueggeman