Outdoor Programming: Insects and Animal Safeguarding
Summer camp is a great opportunity for kids to get away and connect with the outdoors. Hiking, camping, canoeing, kayaking and other activities that involve outdoor exploration may very well be the highlight of a camper’s summer. However, they also expose campers and counselors to risks—including the potential for venomous bites or stings, as well as diseases spread by biting insects such as ticks.
Although it’s impossible to completely eliminate the risk, applying these basic steps to all potential exposures will help keep your campers and staff safe:
- Implement policies to prevent wildlife exposures and ensure that the entire camp is adhering to them.
- Encourage staff and campers to speak up and visit the camp nurse or health center if there are any concerns.
- Teach campers to check their skin each night during shower time for any new bumps, rashes or other bite symptoms and to talk with their counselor if they find anything out of place.
- Notify your supervisor regardless of the type of exposure.
- Educate camp and camp families on ways to avoid and respond to exposures that are likely in your state, and notify families immediately following any known exposures. When informing families, be sure to communicate the type of exposure, the signs and symptoms to look for in identifying exposures and whether or not the children are allowed to return to camp/outdoor programming and for how long.
The following guide includes important detection and prevention information for the most common bites and expositions.
Not all tick bites are harmful, as not all ticks carry diseases. However, both the rate and geographical spread of tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever have been growing in recent years as our climate warms.
Tick bites may be difficult to detect and symptoms of tick bite diseases can take several days and even several weeks to surface—but left untreated, the consequences can be devastating. Lyme disease, for example, can cause a wide range of debilitating health conditions including arthritis and neurological disorders which can last for years.
Here are some things to keep in mind:
Ticks are often found in:
- Grassy, brushy or wooded areas
- On animals
You can prevent bites by:
- Avoiding areas with high grass and leaf litter.
- Walking in the center of trails.
- Check for ticks on clothes and skin (e.g.. in and around the ears, under the arms and behind the knees) each time you come indoors.
- Shower soon after being outdoors (when possible).
- Apply local cleansing and antibiotic cream.
- If feasible, safely remove the tick, saving it as a specimen in case of infection. As a precaution, have the victim seek medical attention right away, especially if symptoms start to surface.
- Monitor health for at least a week, even if no symptoms surface immediately.
Tick bite disease symptoms can include:
- Joint pain
- Muscle aches
- Spotted rash
Note: You can contact your local health department for specific information regarding the number of recent cases of tick-borne illnesses in your area and their advice on how to handle tick bites and potential diseases. The Center for Disease Control and the American Camp Association provide helpful resources regarding ways to manage ticks at camp, tick-borne illnesses, proper handling of ticks and ways to educate camp and camp families.
Although most are innocuous, there are some spiders out there that are genuine cause for significant concern. Before you trek into the wilderness, educate your campers and staff on the types of venomous spiders they could encounter—like the Brown Recluse and Black Widow—and be sure they know the possible symptoms of a bite. Important things to know include:
Spiders are often found in:
- The rafters of cabins
- Under porches
- In storage areas, closets and wood piles
- In hidden spaces/nooks where their webs may typically go undisturbed
You can prevent bites by:
- Mowing tall grass and brush around heavily trafficked areas.
- Removing debris or rubble from around buildings.
- Frequently inspecting and clearing spider webs in and around buildings.
- Inspecting the insides of boats, boat racks, storage closets and other nooks before use, and moving materials/equipment that have been undisturbed for a period of time.
- Wearing protective clothing during activities like hiking.
Spider bite symptoms can include:
- Itching or rash
- Pain radiating from the bite
- Muscle pain or cramping
- Reddish to purplish color or blister
- Increased sweating
- Difficulty breathing
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fever and chills
- Anxiety or restlessness
- High blood pressure
- Try to identify the spider if it’s possible to do so safely.
- See the camp nurse/health center immediately.
- Wash the bite with soap and water and apply ice to help reduce any swelling.
- Stay calm and do NOT attempt to squeeze or suck any venom from the bite.
- Elevate bite area if possible.
Snakes are fascinating creatures and are a necessary part of our ecosystem. Although snakes are known predators, they don’t hunt humans, and they will only bite when they are cornered or startled. If your camp encounters a snake on an outdoor adventure, it’s not time to panic, but to be cautious. Make sure your group gives the snake space to retreat and alert the other campers and counselors so they know a snake has been spotted. For information on what snakes to look out for, and vital snake bite prevention strategies, see this guide, and review the following:
Snakes are often found in:
- Lakes or bodies of water
You can prevent bites by:
- Avoiding them and not approaching them if you spot one.
- Removing wood or debris piles where snakes or their prey may live.
- Maintaining low grass, clearing trails, lake edges and docks to help you spot their presence.
- Being careful when stepping over logs and rock outcroppings, where snakes may be resting.
- Keeping hands and feet out of bushes and places where it’s hard to see.
- Having staff lead hikes and keep their eyes on the trail and its hedges.
- Making noise and commotion on the trail to announce your presence and minimize your chance of spooking a snake or getting too close.
- Wearing appropriate protective gear when you hike (e.g. tall boots).
- Before programming, have staff do a sweep around lakes or creeks to rustle any snakes out of the area.
Snake bite symptoms can include:
- Severe pain at the side of the bite
- Increased heart rate
- Sweating and increased salivation
- Slowed or stopped breathing
- Numbness in face or limbs
- Try to identify the snake if it’s possible to do so safely, but never try to catch a snake.
- Seek medical attention immediately.
- Do not try to suck the venom out or squeeze the bite area.
- Stay calm, and don’t run. Increasing heart rate will spread any venom faster.
Contact your local Parks department, Department of Natural Resources, or Wildlife resources commission for specific information on the snakes in your area.