What Are the Hazards?
Like any outdoor activity, orienteering does carry risks, however remote. These include sprained ankles, bee stings, snakes, mountain lions, wild pigs, pot farmers, and mosquitoes (e.g., Zinka virus (http://www.pests.org/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-health-risks-of-zika/)). However, the most realistic and serious concerns in our area are poison oak and tick-borne Lyme disease.
This is a major problem in some Bay Area parks (http://baoc.org/maps/locales.php). If you don't know what poison oak (PO) looks like, the photos at the left and below show its spring and summer appearance, and how it turns red in the fall. Note that the bare stalks are still â€œtoxicâ€ in the winter!
If you see any PO, go around it, not through it. Remember the motto: bright red leaves of three, let it be.
The standard PO precautions as as follows (see below for alternatives to Tecnu):
- Avoid touching the plant if at all possible.
- Wear long sleeves and long pants.
- As soon as possible after the event, preferably at the event site, remove all exterior clothes and shoes and put them in a plastic bag, and do not touch them again until they are washed.
- Use Tecnu at the event site, trying to rub it in on as much exposed skin as possible. Some people rinse it off; others just wipe off the excess oil with a towel after a few minutes, and then toss the towel in the â€œcontaminatedâ€ bag.
- Put on clean clothes.
- When you get home, toss those â€œcleanâ€ clothes in the â€œcontaminatedâ€ bag, and reapply Tecnu before you shower. (You should do your tick search at that time.)
- Let the Tecnu work for a few minutes, and then thoroughly rinse it off in the shower, preferably with lukewarm water, not hot water (which opens your pores and lets in the PO oil).
If you are very allergic or were in some serious PO, you will probably still get some rash in the next 24 to 72 hours. As soon as you notice some small red bumps or itching, wash again with Tecnu. If the rash is bad, you can apply a prescription-strength steroid cream to the affected area. Some people use Fluocinonide 0.05% cream. It is generic and relatively inexpensive, but you do need a doctor's prescription. Repeat application of the steroid cream every 3 to 4 hours as needed to beat down the rash. Zanfel is another treatment for the rash (see below).
Most people who follow these guidelines are fairly comfortable. However, do not let it become a huge, red, weeping rash, for which you will have to see a physician and go on systemic steroids.
Be forewarned, poison oak is a chameleon—it can manifest itself as ankle-high plants, huge shrubberies, or vines winding around trees.
There are several products that claim to provide protection either before or after exposure (note, however, that mention of products and sources here does not constitute any endorsement):
- BAOC orienteers swear by Tecnu (http://www.teclabsinc.com/products/poison-oak-ivy/tecnu) for prevention and treatment of the itchy rash that comes with exposure. It is used to wash after exposure. Tecnu Extreme (https://www.teclabsinc.com/products/poison-oak-ivy/tecnu-extreme) is a related product. Technu is available at local drug stores. (Note that some people claim that ordinary dish soap works just as well—see below.)
- Ivy X Pre-Contact (http://coretexproducts.com/ivyx_b/) is a pre-contact prevention and Ivy X Post-Contact (http://coretexproducts.com/ivyx_b/) is an after-contact wash. (Those products are hard to find. Try Amazon (http://www.amazon.com), Everything Summercamp (http://everythingsummercamp.com), or SafetyCompany.com (http://www.safetycompany.com) [other onlines sources have very high shipping charges].)
- bÃ¼ji Block (http://www.bujiproducts.com/buji-block.html) is a pre-contact prevention and bÃ¼ji Wash (http://www.bujiproducts.com/buji-wash.html) is an after-contact wash.
- Zanfel (http://www.zanfel.com/) is claimed (http://poisonivy.aesir.com/view/zanfel.html) to be a very effective treatment and cure for poison-oak rash (but it's rather expensive!).
- Since the poison oak toxin is an oil (urushiol), liquid dishwashing soap—no special brand required—will remove it from exposed areas. If you wash within a few hours of exposure, you can prevent a reaction from developing. Make sure to bathe in lukewarm or cool water, so you don't get the oil into your pores.
For more information on this bane of orienteers, see the Poison Oak FAQ (http://www.knoledge.org/oak/), the Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac Information Center (http://poisonivy.aesir.com/), the Tecnu Poison Ivy and Oak Guide (http://www.teclabsinc.com/tips-info/poison-ivy-and-oak-guide), or the article How to Spot Poison Oak Before It Spots You (https://openspacetrust.org/blog/poison-oak/) (which includes a short video).
Transmitted by tick bites, Lyme disease is potentially quite serious. Evan Custer, our resident M.D., has written an excellent article on Lyme disease that covers incidence, symptoms, tests and treatment, and prevention.
Here are some comments about how to protect yourself from Lyme disease:
Wear long-sleeved pants and shirts, and do a careful tick search before or after showering. The tick that carries Lyme disease, the Western black-legged tick (Ixodes pacificus) is endemic in Tilden Park, and possibly others. It is a small tick, about the size of the head of a pin. If a tick has embedded itself in your skin, use a thin tweezers and pull it straight out (the procedure is described here (https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/removing_a_tick.html)). The earlier the tick is removed, the less likely you will be infected with the causative bacterium. You may want to place the tick in a small vial for identification later if desired. If you are a resident of Contra Costa County, Contra Costa Mosquito and Vector Control (http://www.contracostamosquito.com/ticks.htm) will identify the tick for you free of charge if brought or mailed in. However, even if it is the species of tick that carries Lyme disease, only a small percentage of ticks are infected with the bacterium that causes the disease. More information about ticks and Lyme disease can be found in this file (PDF/88KB) (http://www.contracostamosquito.com/PDF/TickTestQandA.pdf).
If you should develop a target-shaped rash over the next couple of weeks, that is generally considered to indicate that you have contracted Lyme disease, and should see a physician for appropriate treatment with antibiotics.
Tick-Borne Encephalitis (TBE)
If you will be orienteering in Europe or Asia, in addition to protecting yourself from Lyme disease, itâ€™s important to take the time to learn about the possible risks of TBE caused by tick bites.
Ticks can often be found in outdoor areas, including grassy areas and forests, where many orienteering activities take place.¹ This can mean that orienteers are at an increased risk of exposure to ticks and the diseases they can pass onto humans through their bite, including TBE, which can affect the central nervous system.²
To learn more about TBE, including the risk factors, symptoms, and how tick bites can cause people to become infected, refer to the IOF e-learning module (https://i6653n.c.plma.se/?q=69778517507732650099&TId=1), developed in partnership with Pfizer to help inform you on how to stay safe against the disease.
Donâ€™t run the risk — by the end of the module, you will be fully equipped to help protect yourself against tick bites and will be prepared for your next orienteering outing.
You could also read the information provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) here (https://www.cdc.gov/tick-borne-encephalitis/index.html), which includes detailed information about the risks in many countries here (https://www.cdc.gov/tick-borne-encephalitis/geographic-distribution/index.html).
References regarding TBE:
¹ Dobler G, Erber W, BrÃ¶ker M, Schmitt HJ, eds. The TBE Book. 6th ed. Singapore: Global Health Press; 2023.
² Lindquist L, et al. Tick-borne encephalitis. Lancet. 2008;371(9627):1861-71.