Prois chicks and ticks… not a pleasant combination.

Author Michelle Whitney Bodenheimer and Britney Starr with Michelle's mighty blue wildebeest.   Image by Starr & Bodill African Safaris

Author Michelle Whitney Bodenheimer and Britney Starr with Michelle’s mighty blue wildebeest.
Image: Starr & Bodill African Safaris

This past July, I had the wonderful experience of hunting with Starr & Bodill African Safaris in the Eastern Cape of South Africa with five other unique and amazing women, including fellow Prois staffers Andrea Fisher and Britney Starr.  (Starr is coincidently one of the Starrs behind Starr & Bodill). We enjoyed 10 days of successful plains game hunting and a day of fishing in the Indian Ocean. It was an adventure I will never forget.

I have hunted in South Africa several times before, but this trip with the ladies will be among the most memorable. Each stalk, each kill, and each fireside story we shared will forever be ingrained in my book of life. There are a few memories I would rather leave behind in the Dark Continent, however, specifically those dealing with ticks. Yes, ticks, the little creepy-crawly, blood sucking pests.

I admit, I was not prepared and did not expect to have to deal with ticks on this trip. After all, we were hunting in South Africa in the dead of its winter when bugs are not usually as prevalent. We were also in an area that is not generally known for having issues of the insect sort. Unfortunately, I forgot the first rule of hunting, “Expect the unexpected.”

It was not long into our hunt that Britney and I discovered a number of pepper ticks climbing our legs. As the name suggests, “pepper ticks” are small, only the size of a fleck of pepper. In fact, the ticks are so small we likely never saw the majority of them hitching a ride on our bodies. We did what we could to keep the ticks away, including tucking our socks into our boots and wearing gaiters, but our efforts were too little, too late. It would be just a few days after our first bites that each of us (Andrea included) would begin exhibiting the symptoms of African Tick Bite Fever.

A classic eschar scab resulting from a tick bite.  Image by Britney Starr

A classic eschar scab resulting from a tick bite. Image:Britney Starr

African Tick Bite Fever is a bacterial infection transmitted by ticks. Symptoms usually begin to show themselves within 5 to 7 days after the initial bite, and include severe headache, fever, and body pains. Some infected individuals will also notice a small scab, surrounded by obvious infection on the skin. This is called an “eschar”, and is the site where the infected tick attached. Left untreated, African Tick Bite Fever can become severe, or even fatal. Fortunately, a stiff dose of antibiotics (more specifically, Doxycycline) can knock it out.

Do not be alarmed! Just because you go to Africa to hunt does not mean you will be bitten by a tick, and not every tick in Africa carries Tick Bite Fever. Was it coincidence, however, that the three Prois Staffers on our hunt all ended up being treated for Tick Bite Fever? I think not. My theory is Prois blood runs sweet, and the ticks just could not resist our charm!

Although I am making light of the situation now that it has passed, African Tick Bite Fever is a serious condition that requires medical attention. It is also a condition that can be prevented. Here are just a few suggestions for keeping the ticks at bay on your next adventure:

  • Michelle took successfully shot and killed her warthog with one shot from the prone position.  Image: Britney Starr

    Michelle successfully harvested her warthog with one shot from the prone position.
    Image: Britney Starr

    Spray your clothes with Permethrin before your trip. Permethrin kills ticks on contact with treated clothing. Most Permethrin sprays remain effective after several washings. Do not just treat your boots and pant legs, however. Remember that there will be times while hunting that you will be laying on your belly or crawling through a field. Not only will ticks crawl through open cuffs, but in the case of pepper ticks, they are small enough to fit through the fibers of fabric. All your clothing should be pre-treated.

  • Use an insect repellant containing 20-30% DEET.  Fabric and exposed skin sprayed with DEET should repel ticks for several hours after application.
  • Wear gaiters and keep pants tucked into your socks to help prevent larger ticks from crawling under pant cuffs.

Sometimes being bitten by a tick is just an occupational hazard of hunting. It cannot be avoided, such as it was in my case. I will forever remember the summer of 2014 as the summer I contracted African Tick Bite Fever. It will also be the summer I enjoyed the trip of a lifetime with my Prois sisters, and those are memories I hope to never forget. #proiswasthere

Michelle poses with her warthog in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.

Michelle poses with her warthog in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Image: Starr & Bodill African Safaris

For additional information on African Tick Bite Fever, check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Stay tuned for more stories from my 2014 African Adventure!

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