Published May 22, 2009
Careful inspection and prevention will keep ticks from ruining your summerTHE OLYMPIAN
I don’t want anyone to start feeling itchy or creepy over breakfast, but this is shaping up as an epic year for ticks – the nastiest parasite in the Northwest. Ticks started showing up on the east side of the Cascades in Oregon and Washington a few weeks ago. I spend a lot of time in the Columbia River Gorge and in central Oregon, and I’ve found ticks on my waders during every trip to Oregon’s Deschutes River. I’ve also found ticks near Hood River, Oregon. Finally – and creepily – I found a couple ticks last week after walking through a grassy, brushy area right here in South Sound. Ticks are much rarer in western Washington than east of the Cascades, but there were two little parasites – spidery-looking creatures with long snouts and fattish bodies crawling on my jeans. Yuck! Biologists tell me that any area with deer also has ticks, and we’ve got a lot of blacktail deer and elk wandering around western Washington. Anything that latches onto your skin and sends a barbed probe into your body to suck in your blood is creepy, but ticks also carry some nasty diseases. Ticks are famous for carrying Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and other maladies. Both illnesses start after a tick has been dining on your blood for a few days. Both start with fever, headache, nausea, vomiting and lack of appetite. Left untreated, Lyme disease can travel to your joints, heart or nervous system. Now, there is no reason to stay inside because of a few ticks – or even a lot of ticks. The best solution to the problem is prevention. Ticks tend to hang out on grass or brush near trails or places where deer and other animals travel. The critters grab onto a warm body as it passes by. I’m sure those ticks latched onto my waders while I walked through tall grass along the river. Here’s what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends to keep ticks off your body: Wear light-colored clothing – so it is easy to see ticks. Long sleeves and long pants tucked into socks block ticks from finding a quick route to your skin. Always use repellents with DEET or permethrin. DEET is a harsh chemical, and should be used with great caution on children. I go one step further and wear outdoor clothes treated with the Buzz Off or Insect Shield systems. Buzz Off and Insect Shield clothes are treated with permethrin, which is a natural bug repellent found in some chrysanthemum plants. These clothes will keep mosquitos, ticks, biting flies and other critters off your body. I own Buzz Off and Insect Shield shirts, pants, hats and socks. Buzz Off clothes will keep bugs away through 25 trips in the washing machine, while Insect Shield works through 70 washings or more. Insect Shield appears to be the second generation of Buzz Off. Most western Washington outdoor stores sell these clothes. Some of this stuff is expensive – $70 for pants or a shirt – but the T-shirts, bandanas and hats are less than $30, and it’s not hard to find stuff on sale. I’d rather wear these clothes than keep dousing myself with eye-watering bug spray. If I’m in a really bad area, I use the spray and the clothes. After the day is over, strip down and check every inch of your body for ticks. The CDC recommends using a small mirror to check your nether regions. If you do find a tick, the CDC recommends that you: Use a pair of very fine tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Gently pull out the tick — but don’t twist or jerk — as that may leave some of the tick’s mouth parts imbedding in your body. Disinfect the wound. Put the tick in a plastic bag and then put the bag in the freezer. Keep the tick just in case you become ill. Other ways of pulling ticks don’t work very well. Ticks and humans have lived together for thousands of years, and there are always ticks in the outdoors. But a little care will keep you enjoying the outdoors – and nasty ticks from finding a new home on your body. Now, stop feeling itchy and creepy – and start getting ready to block the ticks. Chester Allen can be contacted at email@example.com or 360-754-4226. Learn more For more information on ticks, tick prevention and tick removal, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site at www.cdc.gov/ticks/prevention.html.