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Tick activity increases with the return of spring

By Claire Macpherson
Special to The SUN

Colorado residents who spend time outdoors this spring should avoid tick bites to prevent tick-borne illnesses. Colorado tick fever (CTF) is by far the most common tick-transmitted disease in this region, while Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is quite rare here.

The most common carrier of both of these diseases is the Rocky Mountain wood tick. This tick is generally found in sagebrush, juniper and pine habitats in areas that have moderate amounts of shrubs and grasses from elevations of 4,000 to 10,000 feet. Adult Rocky Mountain wood ticks usually come out from their overwintering sites in the beginning of March. Tick activity then peaks in April. This is expected to end in June due to hot, dry conditions, though it is weather dependent.

Ticks are often found behind the knees, at the waistband and groin area, around the armpits and the nape of the neck. If you are bitten by a tick carrying CTF virus or the RMSF bacteria, you may become ill. The time from the tick bite to when symptoms begin can vary from one to two days to as long as two weeks. The symptoms associated with these diseases are similar. They include fever, chills, headache, muscle aches and lethargy. A rash is also sometimes present.

Many individuals who contract CTF will get better within a few weeks without treatment.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever is a more serious disease; it is caused by bacteria and should be treated with antibiotics as soon as possible.

Tips to protect yourself:

• Avoid wooded and brush areas with high grass and leaf litter.

• Walk in the center of trails.

• Use repellents that contain 20-30 percent DEET on exposed skin and clothing for protection that lasts up to several hours. Always follow product instructions.

• Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.

• Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body. Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist and especially in the hair.

• Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats and day packs.

• Treat your household pets with veterinarian-recommended flea and tick treatments.

How to remove a tick:

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

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

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

Follow-up

If you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick, see your doctor. Be sure to tell the doctor about your recent tick bite, when the bite occurred, and where you most likely acquired the tick.

Learn more: For this and more information about tick-borne disease, visit www.cdc.gov/ticks/index.html or www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/insect/05593.pdf.

This story was posted on May 1, 2014.