How to Prepare for Tick Season in Western Washington

By Brandon Hansen / For the Nisqually Valley News
Posted 3/29/22

Spring has sprung and with its return, so have ticks.

In Northern America, when temperatures begin to warm, ticks begin to stretch their legs around the outdoors. Since ticks can carry illnesses, …

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How to Prepare for Tick Season in Western Washington

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Spring has sprung and with its return, so have ticks.

In Northern America, when temperatures begin to warm, ticks begin to stretch their legs around the outdoors. Since ticks can carry illnesses, it’s always smart to be aware of their presence and get them off you and your pets if found.

Spring and summer are when ticks are out the most and while the severity of a tick season varies, people should be ready to encounter them when they’re outdoors in grassy, brushy and wooded areas. 

According to the Washington Department of Health, around a dozen tick disease cases are reported each year in the state despite a high degree of interaction between humans and ticks.

“In the Pacific Northwest, relatively few tick-borne disease cases are reported each year in comparison to other regions of the United States,” states the Department of Health on its website.

Nonetheless, the Department of Health urges Washington residents to be aware of diseases ticks can spread. Those include Lyme disease, babesiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia, tick-borne relapsing fever and tick paralysis.

Lyme disease is perhaps the most well-known of tick diseases. Caused by a bacteria, a tick bite that causes Lyme disease will cause a bull’s eye-shaped rash at least five centimeters in diameter. If people get Lyme disease, they could suffer from fever, headache, and muscle and joint pain. It can be treated by antibiotics, but if left untreated, recurring joint pain and swelling, heart disease and nervous system disorders can occur. Each year about 10 to 40 cases of Lyme disease are reported in Washington but typically this is from people who have traveled to other states. Around seven cases of Lyme disease are reported each year that originated in Washington state.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a rare disease with three or less cases reported each year. The disease can cause abdominal pain, joint pain and diarrhea. Tularemia, or rabbit fever, can cause fevers, headaches, swollen lymph nodes and skin ulcers. It can also be spread via fleas as well and roughly one to 10 cases are reported each year.

Tick-borne relapsing fever is caused by bacteria through tick bites. Typically a fever will occur between two to seven days, and then disappear for four to 14 days and come back. Most people infected with relapsing fevers have stayed in mountainous cabins. There have been just 12 cases recorded from 1990 to 2011.

Tick paralysis occurs when a tick is attached to a human and secrets a neurotoxin. If the tick is embedded for long periods of time, paralysis can start in the legs, work its way up the body and if not treated can cause respiratory failure and death. This is why removing ticks is important.

People are encouraged to stay in the middle of hiking trails in grassy, brushy wooded areas if they want to stay away from ticks. Other tips include wearing light colored clothing, long pants and tucking shirts in. Use tick repellent containing DEET, and once you’re done with outdoor activities, check clothing, pets, and check your body. People are encouraged to shower after being outdoors during tick season.

Removing a tick has created a small niche market of myths of how to remove them. The trick is fairly straightforward: get tweezers. 

The Washington Department of Health recommends a person use fine-nosed tweezers and put it as close to the surface and pull upwards with steady even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk because that can cause the tick’s mouthparts to break off and stay in the skin.

Once you’re done removing a tick, wash the area of the bite and your hands with rubbing alcohol, soap and water.

After tick encounters, the department of health encourages people to call their health care provider if they develop a rash or flu-like illnesses within several weeks.

For more information on ticks, go online to https://doh.wa.gov/community-and-environment/pests/ticks.

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