A Timely Tick Talk

LuAnn Burgmuller, RN
Director, Ravalli County Public Health


A Timely Tick Talk
As we continue into the warmer seasons we are receiving more inquiries about ticks and the diseases they may carry. There are many types of ticks in Montana, but in the Bitterroot valley the most common of concern to humans is the Rocky Mountain wood tick. Eastern Montana is known to have the American dog tick in addition to the wood tick. Also, a more uncommon soft-body tick has been found scattered through pockets of Montana, including the Bitterroot Valley.

Public Health experts emphasize a 3-step "Limit/Repel/Inspect" approach to prevent tick bites:

LIMIT: Ticks live in wooded, brushy, or grassy areas, so walk in the center of trails and mow your property where you and your pets spend time.

REPEL: Wear long, light-colored pants and socks to spot ticks more easily and use insect repellents. Repellents containing up to 30 percent DEET can be used on the skin or clothing. Repellents with lower DEET concentrations might need to be applied more frequently. Repellents containing permethrin can be used on clothing, but not on skin. One application to pants, socks, and shoes may be effective through several washings.

INSPECT: Check your skin carefully for ticks after returning from outdoor activities especially if you were in wooded, brushy, or grassy areas. De-ticking clothing is best done by throwing clothes into a drier on high for 10 minutes, even before washing. Remember to inspect children and animals after an outing.

The most common symptoms of tick-borne infections include fever and chills, aches and pains, rash, and fever of varying degrees. Although easily treated with antibiotics, these diseases can be difficult for physicians to diagnose. Early recognition and treatment of the infection decreases the risk of serious complications. State public health officials receive an average of eight tick-borne illness reports every year, the most usual being Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia, and Colorado Tick Fever.

We also receive many inquiries about Lyme disease in Montana. According to the CDC, all cases of confirmed Lyme disease among Montana residents have occurred in persons with a history of travel to areas endemic for Lyme disease. At this time, tick species known to be able to carry the bacteria for Lyme disease (B. burgdorferi ) are not known to exist in Montana. B. burgdorferi is spread through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks or deer ticks which transmit the bacterium in the northeastern, mid-Atlantic, and north-central United States, and the western blacklegged tick along the Pacific coast. Neither tick species has been detected in Montana.

I would be remiss if I did not also mention another tick-borne disease called Tick Paralysis since my own daughter experienced this frightening condition at age 4. Tick paralysis is a rare disease that results in an acute, ascending, flaccid paralysis. It is believed to be caused by toxins located in the tick's saliva that are secreted into the human host (also seen in animals). Although tick paralysis is not a reportable condition in Montana, the three-state region of Montana, Idaho and Washington has the highest incidence in the United States. Within 24 hours of removing the tick, the paralysis typically subsides and the patient fully recovers.

See your doctor immediately if you have been bitten by a tick and experience symptoms.

How to properly remove an attached tick:
  • 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.
  • Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet.
  • Never crush a tick with your fingers.
AVOID folklore remedies such as "painting" the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. These methods are not recommended and may cause the tick to burrow deeper into the skin.

At Public Health we are committed to prevention, health promotion, and protection of our community. Enjoy the summer and don't let a tick make you sick!

This week's health column is a collaborative effort between Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital and Ravalli County Public Health. For questions or comments may be directed to LuAnn Burgmuller, RN, Director of Ravalli County Public Health, 205 Bedford St, Hamilton MT (next to the museum), Open 8-5 M-F (closed noon to 1) Phone 406-375- 6672.
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