As Montanans look to enjoy the outdoors this spring and summer, state and local public health officials urge everyone to follow a few simple steps to prevent tick bites and their illnesses: Limit, repel, and inspect.
Exactly how severe the tick season will be is unpredictable. However, each year thousands of people in the United States are bitten by ticks and become infected with a tick-borne illness.
“To avoid becoming a victim of a tick bite, people should be aware that ticks could be in the areas where they live, work and play,” said DPHHS Director Sheila Hogan.
Officials say the best way to prevent tick-borne disease is to prevent tick bites.
Public health departments in Montana investigate reports of tick-borne illnesses every year and monitoring trends closely as tick-borne diseases are on the rise in the U.S. Over the past two decades, several new tickborne diseases that can cause illness have been identified in the United States. Recently identified tick-diseases in the U.S. include Heartland and Bourbon virus.
While these new illnesses have not been reported in Montana to date, we do receive reports of many others. Commonly reported tick-borne diseases in Montana include Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, tickborne relapsing fever, tularemia and Colorado tick fever.
In recent years, cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia have increased in Montana. The most common tickborne illness acquired in Montana is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, with an average of six cases reported each year.
The tick that causes Lyme disease, Ixodes scapularis, has not been found in Montana. To date, all but a single case of Lyme disease reported in Montana have been associated with travel to other areas of the United States and are not believed to have been acquired in Montana.
Other reported tick-borne illnesses believed to be acquired out-of-state include ehrlichiosis and babesiosis. All diseases listed previously can cause serious illness.
Public health officials emphasize a three-step approach to prevent tick bites:
•Limit: Ticks live in wooded, brushy, or grassy areas so walk in the center of trails and mow your property where you and your pets spend time.
•Repel: Wear long, light-colored pants and socks to spot ticks more easily and use insect repellents. Those repellents containing up to 30 percent DEET can be used on the skin or clothing. Repellents with lower DEET concentrations might need to be applied more frequently. 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.
•Inspect: Check your skin carefully for ticks after returning from outdoor activities, especially if you were in wooded, brushy or grassy areas. Common hiding places for ticks are the scalp, beard, back of the knees, armpits, groin, back of the neck, and behind the ears. De-ticking clothing is best done by throwing clothes into a dryer on high for 10 minutes, even before washing.
The most common symptoms of tick-borne infections include fever and chills, aches and pains, rash, and fever of varying degrees. Although most are easily treated with antibiotics, these diseases can be difficult for physicians to diagnose. Early recognition and treatment of the infection decreases the risk of serious complications.
Individuals should see their healthcare provider immediately if they have been bitten by a tick and experience symptoms.
If a tick is found and is attached, follow these steps in order to safely remove the tick.
•Use fine-tipped, “pointy” tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
•Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
•After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
Do no use folklore remedies such as “painting” the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. These methods are not recommended and may cause the tick to burrow deeper into the skin.
For more information about tick-borne illnesses, protection and detection efforts, visit the DPHHS website at www.dphhs.mt.gov.