Ticks are back


Although tick-borne diseases are rare in Washington, they do occur and its important to protect yourself, your family and your pets during the spring, summer and fall, Washington State Department of Health officials warn.

Female western black-legged tick, Ixodes pacificus, can transmit Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. These ticks are mainly found in western Washington and live in forested or brushy areas. Photo: James Gathany, CDC

Every year there are cases of both Lyme disease and a disease called tick-borne relapsing fever in Washington state.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever and babesiosis are more rare, but do occur as well, health officials said.

Often these infections are from tick bites that Washington residents got while traveling in other states where ticks and tick-borne diseases are more common, but many of these infections, including Lyme disease, are acquired here at home, health officials said.

Tick-borne diseases range from mild illnesses to serious infections that require hospitalization. Symptoms may include fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, or rash.

Several tick-borne diseases can also infect dogs.

The ticks that spread these dieases live in wooded, brushy, or grassy places. They feed on rodents, raccoons, deer, and other warm-blooded animals — including dogs and people.

Ticks can also be found in cabins, where, for example, the relapsing fever ticks can be found.

The best protection against tick-borne diseases is taking steps to prevent tick bites before you heading outdoors, says Liz Dykstra, Ph.D., public health entomologist with the Zoonotic Disease Program. “There are some simple precautions people can take.”

Before you go out:

  • Put on insect repellent that contains DEET or permethrin. Both are effective if used properly. DEET is applied to skin, and permethrin is applied to clothing. Carefully follow product directions.
  • Wear light-colored clothing. It’s easier to spot dark-colored insects.
  • Tuck your pants into your socks and your shirt into your pants.
  • Protect pets: Use an approved tick preventative on your pets. Ask your veterinarian which product or method is best for your pet.

While and after your outside:

  • Check yourself, your family members, and your pets carefully for ticks.
  • Ask someone to check your back, too.

If you find a tick:

If you find a tick on yourself, carefully remove it right away. Grasp the tick with tweezers as close to the skin as possible and pull upward with a steady even pressure. Avoid crushing the tick’s body. Make sure the mouthparts are removed and then thoroughly clean the bite site using soap and water, rubbing alcohol, or iodine solution.

Write down the date you found the attached tick. If you develop a fever or rash within the next several weeks, seek medical care, and tell your healthcare provider about your recent tick bite. This information, along with the species of the tick, may help your provider with your diagnosis.

To try to keep track of where ticks are living, the state’s Zoonotic Disease Program, which tracks diseases that spread from animals to humans (Zoonotic and Zoonosis come from the Greek zoo -‘of animals’ + nosos ‘disease’), is asking people who are bitten to send in the ticks for identification.

For information on how to submit a tick go to the Zoonotic Disease Program’s website.

A helpful poster on avoiding tick bites is also available for downloading and printing.

To learn more:

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