Monday Medical: It's tick time in the Rockies — protect yourself

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— Ticks 1, mushrooms 0. That was my score one evening last week.

I had just returned after a fruitless hunt for morels when my friend noticed a small, reddish-brown spot on my shoulder. She first thought it was a bit of forest debris and then realized it was a tick.

Fortunately, the tick was easily brushed off and dispatched to tick heaven. I have never been a fan of these critters. In addition to being just plain creepy, they are the vampires of the insect world, and they can transmit disease.

Lyme disease is a well-known tick-borne illness. The Colorado State University Extension reports that no human cases of Lyme disease have originated in Colorado. Other diseases that you can get from a tick bite here include:

■ Colorado tick fever

■ Tick-borne relapsing fever

■ Tularemia

■ Rocky Mountain spotted fever

The severity of tick-borne illness can vary from mild to serious and even fatal, depending on a number of factors.

So no matter how we enjoy the great outdoors — gardening, camping, hiking, biking or mushroom hunting — it’s important to remember that ticks share the same environment.

All ticks hungrily seek animals and people to bite. De­­pen­­ding on the species, you can find ticks in various environments, often in or near wooded areas. You can prevent tick bites and reduce your risk of tick-borne disease by following these tips.

■ Know where to expect ticks. They live in moist and humid environments, particularly in or near wooded or grassy areas. You may come into contact with ticks during outdoor activities around your home or when walking through vegetation. Always walk in the center of trails.

■ Use a repellent with DEET on skin or clothing or permethrin on clothing and wear long sleeves, long pants and socks. Products containing permethrin can be used to treat boots, clothing and camping gear and can remain protective through several washings.

■ Repellents containing 20 percent or more DEET can be applied to the skin, and they can protect for several hours. Always follow product instructions. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding the hands, eyes and mouth.

■ Wear light-colored clothing, which allows you to see ticks crawling on your clothing. Tuck your pant legs into your socks so that ticks cannot crawl up inside of your pant legs. Some ticks can crawl down into shoes and are small enough to crawl through most socks.

Placing clothes into a dryer on high heat effectively kills ticks.

■ Check your body after being outdoors, even in your own yard. Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body and remove any tick you find.

■ Don’t forget to check under the arms, in and around ears, inside the belly button, on the back of the knees, in and around the hair, between the legs and around the waist.

Parents should check their children, especially their hair, after they have spent time outdoors.

Pets may carry ticks into the house. Tick medicine and tick collars can be effective. Ask a veterinarian or follow package instructions for these products.

To reduce the risk of serious illness, it is essential to remove an attached tick as soon as you notice it. This three-step process is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

■ Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.

■ Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.

■ After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.

Watch for signs of illness such as rash, fever or chills, aches, pain or fatigue, and see a health care provider immediately if these develop. Your risk of acquiring a tick-borne illness depends on many factors, including what type of tick bit you and how long the tick was attached.

I feel fortunate that my friend was so observant. If a tick encounter is in your future, may it be just as brief and non-invasive.

Christine McKelvie is public relations director of Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at christine.mckelvie@yvmc.org.

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