Take a tick seriously
Our climate is changing and this will change our lives. It will also change the lives of all kinds of critters in Oregon. Which is why we’d like to talk about ticks and why it’s important to take a tick seriously.
We can expect insects—including ticks and mosquitos—will appear in different places, at different times, in different numbers, and with different diseases than they carry today. So what does that mean for our health?
Doctors must learn to spot symptoms and identify disease that may be new to them. Public health professionals will be challenged to track trends of where and when disease and risk occurs. And everyone will be challenged to adopt new healthy habits to prevent disease in these changing times.
Let’s talk about lyme disease.
What we know:
In Oregon, lyme disease is being reported more often than in the past in ticks, dogs and people. Only one species (the western blacklegged tick) has been documented as carrying lyme. Ticks are found all across Oregon. Though they are most common east of the Cascades and in Southern Oregon—and most cases of lyme disease have been reported in Hood River and Josephine Counties—climate change will affect their range.
Tick season started early this year after a mild spring—and this is the kind of life cycle change, according to research, that can increase the prevalence of lyme disease in ticks.
We also know that there’s a lot we don’t know. The disease is not carefully tracked, and it can be hard to identify in people. We also know that ticks carry a number of other diseases—and that’s also likely to change as the climate changes.
The best advice? Prevent tick bites, know what to do if you are bitten, and pay attention to your health.
- If you’re in the woods or grasslands, avoid tall grass, weeds and low brushy areas where ticks live.
- If tall grass tromping is part of your adventure, wear light-colored clothing, long sleeves, and tuck your pants into your socks.
- Bug repellant may also be a good idea—but remember that not all repellants are created equal! Your challenge is to use the least amount that is most effective for you—depending on how long you’ll be outdoors and what you’ll be doing. More is not better: misusing or over-using repellant can make you sick. See more about effective repellants.
Know what to do:
- If you are in an area where there might be ticks, be sure to do a “tick check” all over your body.
- Ticks come in different sizes depending on life stage—nymphs can be as tiny as a poppyseed. Most people who get lyme disease are bitten by nymphs, in part because they go unnoticed.
- Check your dog, too! Your dog can get the disease — and ticks can hitch a ride on your dog long enough to bite you at home.
- If you find a tick, remove it and save it. Grasp the tick’s mouth parts with a tweezer and pull it straight out. You can throw it in a plastic bag with a cotton ball and store it in the freezer, or put it in a small vial with rubbing alcohol.
- Testing a tick for disease is not cheap (here’s one lab that does it). You may wish to hold onto it for a few months to see whether you have symptoms first.
- The truth is, there’s a lot of unknowns when it comes to lyme disease.
- If the tick is very small, you may not even know it was there.
- Some say it takes days for a tick to transmit disease—some say a matter of hours.
- Sometimes medical tests can diagnose your infection—sometimes they produce false negatives.
- Sometimes lyme symptoms include a bullseye-shaped rash—often times not.
- What to do? Keep an eye out for early symptoms including fever, headache, joint aches and a rash (which occurs in only some cases). If you suspect infection, let your doctor know; early treatment with antibiotics is the best way to avoid the most serious effects!