Let's Talk Tick

Sheryl Schumacher
Ravalli County Public Health
205 Bedford, Suite L
Hamilton, Montana

Montana provides an abundance of spring and summer activities, it is also the optimum time for ticks. Ticks are more than just a nuisance, they carry diseases, some of which are very dangerous and even deadly.

What is a tick? Ticks are closely related to spiders, scorpions, and mites. Ticks have 8 legs for crawling slowly, holding on and no wings. Ticks crawl up on low vegetation and wait for people or animals to pass by and brush up against them. Ticks are attracted to the odor, heat, and breathing of people and other animals. In Montana, tick season lasts from the onset of warmer weather in spring until about mid-July when warmer weather and low relative humidity cause the ticks to become inactive. They feed on animals and can pass diseases to people, pets, wildlife, and livestock.

Prevent a Tick Bite
To avoid getting bitten, wear light-colored pants and socks to spot ticks more easily, while in the woods, brush, or grassy areas and while handling fallen leaves. Mowing your property where time is spent will help in preventing tick bites. Ticks prefer hiding in the scalp, beard, back of the neck, behind the ears, armpits, back of the knees and groin. Additionally, examine your pets carefully. Attempt to shower within 2 hours after coming inside. Also, before washing your clothes, de-tick any exposed gear in a hot dryer for 10 minutes to kill whatever unseen pests might remain. Repellents with 30 percent DEET or lower discourage ticks from attaching and can be used on skin or clothing. 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.

Keep Ticks from latching on
An adhesive layered lint roller and some essential oils may just keep the ticks and other biting insects away. Use the lint roller when you're outside, by rolling it on your clothing every once in a while. Adding some essential oil on your clothing or person may help to keep the ticks from climbing aboard while you're outside. Essential oils are a wonderful natural alternative.

Five (5) essential oils that repel bugs
  1. Lavender - Bugs absolutely hate it. It works on mosquitoes, flies and other insects.
  2. PennyRoyal - A member of the mint family, toxic to insects.
  3. Lemongrass - A citrusy sent. It is a natural flea and tick repellent and can be sprayed directly on the skin.
  4. Eucalyptus - Can reduce tick bites and infections, according to the Journal of medical entomology. Use alone or along with citronella oil to keep bugs away.
  5. Lemon - Some oils can work against fleas and other bugs. Slightly dilute and spray on your clothing and skin.
  • Follow manufacturer directions

In Montana, ticks are capable of transmitting several tick-borne illnesses to people. The Rocky Mountain wood tick is the primary disease vectors in Montana. Incidence of Colorado tick fever is highest between February and October. The most common symptoms of tick-borne infections include fever and chills, aches and pains, rash, and fever of varying degrees. Contact your doctor if symptoms develop or don't improve within one week.
  • Colorado Tick Fever sometimes referred to as mountain tick fever or American mountain fever, is limited to Canada and the western United States.
  • Tularemia ("rabbit fever") is a potentially serious illness that occurs naturally in the United States. People can get tularemia many different ways:
  • being bitten by an infected tick, deerfly or other insect
  • breathing in the bacteria
  • eating or drinking contaminated food or water
  • handling infected animal carcasses

Those exposed to the tularemia bacteria should be treated as soon as possible. The disease can be fatal if it is not treated with the right antibiotics. Symptoms usually appear 3 to 5 days after exposure to the bacteria, but can take as long as 14 days.
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is the most common cause of fatal tick-borne diseases in the United States.
  • Tickborne Relapsing Fever (TBRF) is a rare infection linked to sleeping in rustic cabins, particularly cabins in mountainous areas of the Western United States.
  • Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria transmitted to humans through a bite from an infected black-legged or deer tick. Blacklegged ticks that are the primary vectors for Lyme disease are not known to occur in Montana. Contracting Lyme disease is dependent on the species of tick, where you were when the bite occurred, and how long the tick was attached. Blacklegged ticks must be attached for at least 24 hours to transmit Lyme disease. Early signs and symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes, the CDC says.

Removing Attached Ticks
Encouraging ticks to detach from the skin by applying petroleum jelly or using a hot match could make matters worse. Removing the tick without having it release additional saliva decreases the risk of it transmitting the pathogen. Many devices for tick removal have been marketed, but there is nothing better than a plain set of fine tipped tweezers.
  1. Grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible and pull upward with steady, even pressure. Twisting or jerking may cause the mouthparts to break off. (If this happens, remove mouthparts with tweezers.)
  2. Thoroughly disinfect the bite site with iodine scrub, rubbing alcohol, or water containing detergents and wash your hands with soap and water, after the tick has been removed. Do not squeeze or puncture the body of the tick because its fluids may contain infectious organisms.
  3. Save the tick for identification in a sealable, plastic bag with the date and place in freezer in case you become ill. This may help your doctor make an accurate diagnosis.

For more information:
This week's community health column is brought to you by Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital and Ravalli County Public Health. For questions and or comments, please contact Sheryl Schumacher, Ravalli County Public Health at 406-375-6675. Working together to build a healthier community!


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