Attack of the Bloodsucking Ticks
By Derrick Knowles
There are plenty of good reasons to hate ticks. They are creepy little blood-sucking, disease carrying critters that latch on to unsuspecting nature lovers and immediately seek out your warmest, darkest nether regions for a quick meal. But if you spend much time outdoors in the Inland Northwest, you’re bound to bump into a tick or two, and knowing how to protect yourself may literally save you a few headaches.
Like many creatures that occasionally get an upper hand on those of us on the top of the food chain, ticks are often despised and widely misunderstood. Of an estimated 850 species of ticks world-wide, there are only two types to worry about in our neck of the woods: the tiny, elusive soft ticks that you’re most likely to run into in one of the Inland Northwest’s many dilapidated, rodent-infested cabins, and the more oft-encountered hard or “wood” ticks that wait en masse in grass, trees, and shrubs this time of year for a spring snack.
The Spokane Regional Health District suggests several tick prevention methods. Walk in the center of the trail to avoid picking up ticks from grass and brush; wear light-colored clothing so the ticks stand out; tuck pant legs into socks or boots and shirts into pants; perform a complete body check when you get home, which can be a lot more fun and effective with help from the right hiking partner; check your pet for ticks before allowing them inside; and don’t sleep in or near cabins with major rodent problems, which often means there’s also a soft tick problem.
When prevention inevitably fails, and you find a tick firmly attached to a precious body part, don’t make any rash decisions. Over the years, I’ve heard of people burning them off with lighters, pulling them out with rusty pliers, suffocating them out with gelatinous substances, and even cutting them out with pocket knives. It’s wise to heed warnings and potential pitfalls associated with all of these backwoods remedies. While a thoroughly lodged tick isn’t cause for a 911 call, it’s best to follow the advice of medical experts on removing ticks to reduce your risk of infection, disease and unnecessary self-mastication.
If the tick is crawling on you, brush it off immediately and set it free. If the tick has embedded in the skin, grasp the tick close to its mouth parts (next to the skin) with tweezers. Gently and slowly pull the tick outward without squeezing the tick’s body; the goal here is not to leave any mouth or head bits behind in the bite site. After removing and burning, crushing, stomping on, or drowning the dislodged tick, wash the bite location with soap and water, and apply an antiseptic to the wound immediately.
According to the Spokane Regional Health District, there are several tick-borne diseases in the Spokane area that make following tick prevention and removal protocol a good idea. Soft ticks can transmit Relapsing Fever, which causes some people to become critically ill. Hard or “wood” ticks can carry Tick-borne Paralysis or more infrequently, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
Relapsing Fever is the most common tick-borne disease in this area and can result in abrupt fever, chills, headaches, muscle aches and other miserable symptoms within three to eleven days after a bite. Within a week, symptoms commonly come back, and may recur up to five or six times. Medical treatment is encouraged.
Tick Paralysis is less frequent in our area and occurs when a hard tick releases nerve poison into the victim. Symptoms include nonspecific numbness, followed by weakness in the legs. Paralysis ascends and progresses, impacting muscles used in swallowing, speech and breathing. After finding and removing the tick, symptoms typically diminish within hours to weeks.
The good news is that many other tick-borne diseases that occur in the U.S. are extremely rare in our region, including Lyme Disease, Q Fever and Colorado Tick Fever.
So get smart about ticks, so you can enjoy getting out there.
For more information contact the Spokane Regional Health District at (509) 324-1560, ext. 7.