Precautions to Reduce Tick Bite Risks

Precautions to Reduce Tick Bite Risks

Apr 16, 2009

Health District Urging Simple Precautions to Reduce Tick Bite Risks 

Region experienced Relapsing Fever from tick bites over past few years

The Spokane Regional Health District cautions people in our area to be on guard for ticks, which are responsible for several cases of Relapsing Fever in Eastern Washington. Ticks have already been showing this spring, and the next few weeks of warmer weather will lead to an increase in their numbers.

"There are simple precautions that people can take to reduce their risk of tick-borne disease," said David Swink, director of the Spokane Regional Health District's Environmental Public Health programs. "The best protection is to use clothing to create a barrier when outdoors and to carefully examine people, pets and the indoor environment for ticks, as well."

Two types of disease-carrying ticks are present in the Spokane area. Soft ticks, which can transmit Relapsing Fever are most often found in cabins and wooded areas, and they typically feed at night and drop off their host, so people usually don't know they've been bitten. Hard ticks, sometimes called wood or dog ticks, are more frequently encountered in outdoor settings such as the woods, tall grass, bushes and brushy areas. Hard ticks bite and burrow under the skin of humans and animals, potentially transmitting Tick Paralysis or less frequently, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

Relapsing Fever is the most common tick-borne disease in this area (2008=1 case, 2007=5 cases) and can result in symptoms from 4–18 days (average 7 days) after the soft tick bite. Fever comes on abruptly, along with chills, headaches and muscle aches. Other possible symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and rash. The symptoms may continue for several days before they disappear. Within a week, symptoms commonly come back, and may recur up to five or six times. Medical treatment is encouraged, as some people can become critically ill with Relapsing Fever.

When working, camping, or walking in a tick habitat - wooded, brushy, or grassy places - a few simple precautions can reduce your chance of being bitten:

  • Wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Tuck your pant legs into socks or boots and shirt into pants. This helps keep ticks on the outside of your clothing where they can be more easily spotted and removed.
  • Wear light colored, tightly woven clothing which allow dark ticks to be seen more easily. The tight weave makes it harder for the tick to attach itself.
  • Use tick repellent when necessary, and carefully follow instructions on the label. Products containing DEET or permethrin are very effective in repelling ticks. Take extra care when using on children.
  • Check yourself, your children and pets thoroughly for ticks. Carefully inspect areas around the head, neck and ears. Look for what may appear like a new freckle or speck of dirt.

Most cases of tick-related illness involve people who have stayed at a cabin or vacation home. When visiting a cabin, or for people who live in wooded areas, follow these precautions to avoid ticks:

  • Inspect your cabin on a regular basis for signs of rodent and other animal activity –animals are a source of blood for ticks.
  • Eliminate rodent nesting areas from your cabin.
  • Use food and waste-handling practices that eliminate food sources for rodents.
  • Rodent-proof your cabin as follows:  
  • Seal all holes in foundation and walls.
  • Place heavy gauge metal screens on windows, vents, and other openings to prevent entry of rodents.
  • Place an 18" perimeter border of gravel around the cabin. This can help prevent the movement of rodents and ticks into the cabin.
  • Rodents (mice) can also be a source of hanta virus; elimination of their nesting and food sources is important for this reason as well. Take care when cleaning rodent droppings. Read Tick Tips and Tick Borne Relapsing Fever flyers for more information. Hanta virus risk reducing cleaning tips  /media/documents/Health_Topics/LE-Hantavirus.pdf   

What should you do if you are bitten?

  • Early symptoms of most tick-borne diseases mimic the "flu" with fever, headaches, tiredness, and muscle pain.
  • If you find a tick attached to your skin, promptly remove it. Grasp the tick using tweezers as close to the skin as possible. With a steady motion, pull the tick straight out. Do not twist or jerk. If tweezers are not available, grasp the tick with a piece of tissue. Wash your hands and apply antiseptic to the bite.
  • Occasionally, mouthparts of the tick stay attached to your skin. The mouthparts will not cause disease. If this happens, consult with your physician about their removal.
  • Don't use old remedies such as a matches or Vaseline to remove the tick- this can actually increase the likelihood of disease transmission.
  • Monitor the bite and be alert for early symptoms of tick-borne disease particularly "flu-like" symptoms or rash over the next month or so. If you develop symptoms, contact your physician.