Monday Medical: It’s tick time in the Rockies

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or more about tick species, habitat and disease visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov or the Colorado State University Extension website at www.ext.colostate.edu.

— During a nice evening stroll up the Spring Creek path on May 31, my 7-year-old neighbor Sam suddenly noticed a little insect crawling on his leg.

“Is that a tick?” he asked.

It certainly was. The insect quickly was brushed off, Sam earned praise for his awareness, and we all promised to do a tick check after returning home.

These creepy insects are unpleasant little vampires, hungrily and efficiently seeking animals and people to bite. Infected ticks can transmit diseases.

Colorado tick fever is thought to be the most common tick-borne disease in the state. Fortunately, it is not life threatening and cannot be transmitted from person to person (except by blood transfusion). An infection creates lifelong immunity.

Other diseases that you can get from a tick bite in this state include tick-borne relapsing fever, tularaemia and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The severity of tick-borne illnesses can vary.

No matter how we enjoy the great outdoors — hiking, gardening, camping, biking or mushroom hunting — it’s important to remember that ticks share the same environment. You can prevent tick bites and reduce your risk of tick-borne disease by following these tips.

■ Ticks like grasses and low plants in moist and humid environments. Although they often live in wooded areas, they also can be found in residential lawns and gardens.

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

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.

■ 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 your pant legs. Some ticks can crawl down into shoes and are small enough to crawl through socks.

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

Don’t forget to check in hidden areas, such as under the arms, in and around ears, inside the belly button, back of the knees, and in and around hair. Parents should check their children, especially their hair.

■ Special collars and medicine can protect your pets and home from tick invasion. Be sure to follow package instructions or ask a veterinarian if you have questions.

■ To reduce the risk of illness, it is essential to remove an attached tick as soon as you notice it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using tweezers and pulling upward with steady, even pressure.

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. If these develop, see a health care provider immediately.

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

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