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Watch Out for Little Critters

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Photo: James Gathany/CDC Photo: James Gathany/CDC

It's not only the big wildlife you should watch out for in the woods

Whether we are hiking, biking, riding ATVs, picking berries or bird watching, being in the outdoors always poses risks that we should be aware of and prepared for.  I get a lot of calls from people who want to know how to protect themselves from grizzlies, wolves, and lions. It’s funny how we have an inherent fear of big hairy things with teeth and claws when the reality is, we die from other things in the outdoors way more often than being munched by a predator. According to the Center for Disease Control, on average, 856,0303 people die from cardiovascular disease every year and 48,441 people die from transportation related accidents. So you have a better chance of the old ticker giving out or getting killed in your car before you even get to the outdoors. An average of two to three people die every year from a bear attack, so you have a better chance of getting hit by lightning!

One statistic that we hardly ever pay attention to is tick borne illnesses that affect people across the Unites States. West Nile virus, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme’s Disease, and other tick and related disease kill and harm people way more than large predators. So here is some information on our local ticks, how to remove them, and what kind of diseases they carry if they do attach.

First, let’s look at the type of ticks we have around our parts. Many of you have probably have seen the Winter Tick or Dermacentor albipictus on our elk and moose, especially during March and April when the ticks engorge themselves on blood meal. They fall off at that point, lay eggs underground, and then lie in wait for their next host in September and October.  These ticks pose no threat to humans or our pets. For more information about the winter tick, read my article from a few years ago in the River Journal.

The Brown Dog Tick or Rhipicephalus sanguineus is found around here and most of the United States, especially in the southwest U.S near the Mexican border.  Dogs are the primary host for the Brown Dog Tick for each of its life stages but it may also bite humans or other mammals.

The Rocky Mountain Wood Tick is another blood sucker we may find in our area and is more common than others. The adult ticks feed on all mammals and is largely responsible for the transmission of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia. And finally, the Western Blacklegged Tick is mostly likely to be found along the west coast of the U.S. but it has also been found in southern Idaho and may be moving north. The Western Blacklegged Tick can carry Lyme’s disease, however you are more likely not to come across this tick in North Idaho but I thought I would throw it in here as a possibility.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever is pretty rare in Idaho but it can happen and have severe consequences if left untreated. The tick needs to be attached to the person for more than four hours for disease transmission to occur, so it behooves a person to check themselves regularly and thoroughly. Symptoms can include: sudden onset of fever which can last two to three weeks, severe malaise (general discomfort), deep muscle pain, severe headache, chills, sensitivity to light, rash that develops on the third to fifth day, starting on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet and then spreading to the trunk of the body.

Tularemia is also rare in Idaho. Tularemia (rabbit fever) is caused by bacteria that spreads to people from infected rodents or from the bite of a tick. Symptoms include: high fever, chills, body aches, fatigue, headache, nausea, a skin ulcer at the site of the tick bite, sometimes, swelling of the regional lymph nodes. Symptoms generally start three to five days after an infected tick bites and can last for weeks to months and can be very serious. Tularemia is not spread person to person and can be treated with common antibiotics.

Lyme Disease  is caused by a bacteria that spreads to people from the bite of a deer tick. The species of deer tick that transmits Lyme disease is not native to northern Idaho. However, according to the Panhandle Health District, several cases of Lyme disease have been reported in the five northern counties from people with no travel history. It’s not known if the species of hard tick present in northern Idaho can spread the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. A tick needs to be attached to a person for at least 24 hours before it spreads an infection. Symptoms include: bull’s-eye-like rash at the site of the tick bite, fever, fatigue, headaches, muscle aches, joint pain, stiff neck. Symptoms typically begin three to 32 days after a bite from an infected tick. Untreated, the symptoms will escalate into long-term chronic symptoms that can include arthritis, pain and swelling of joints, nervous system disorders and severe headaches.

What can you do to avoid ticks attaching to you? Wear light-colored, long-sleeved shirts and pants, wear shoes and hats to prevent ticks from attaching to the skin, wear an approved tick repellent and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, walk in the center of trails to avoid overhanging grass and brush, and after spending time outdoors, conduct a tick check of your body and don’t forget your little ones!

If a tick does attach, follow these steps to remove the little sucker, and please don’t listen to the old folklore of painting the tick with nail polish or putting heat to the tick, waiting for it to back out. Your goal is to remove the ticks promptly and carefully. Use tweezers to grasp the tick’s mouth parts as close to the skin as possible. Try not to crush the tick’s body when removing it, and grasp the tweezers as close to the skin as possible to avoid leaving the tick mouth parts in the skin. Slowly and steadily pull the tick away from the skin. Wear gloves, if possible, when removing ticks. Be sure to thoroughly wash the bite site and your hands with soap and warm water after removing any ticks. If you develop any symptoms listed above, be sure to tell the doctor about your recent tick bite, when the bite occurred, and where you most likely acquired the tick.

Leave No Child No Inside—and be sure to check them for ticks when they come home!

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Author info

Matt Haag Matt Haag is an Idaho Fish and Game Conservation Officer.

Tagged as:

North Idaho, The Game Trail, tick, ticks, lyme disease, tularemia, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

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