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Feature Article Brush up on "Tick Awareness" This Summer

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Summer means time spent outside enjoying nature, but growing awareness about Lyme disease may make you worried about exploring the great outdoors. Fortunately, in Oregon we have a low rate of Lyme disease compared to other places in the country.

The Oregon Health Authority reports about 40 to 50 human cases are reported each year in the state, with cases peaking in July. Compared to thousands of cases in states like Pennsylvania or New Jersey, Oregonians are fortunate.

If you’re someone who spends a lot of time hiking in the woods, it’s still worth the effort to check yourself and your pets for ticks after camping or hiking. A tick is much easier to remove when it hasn’t already embedded itself in your skin. It’s also helpful to have someone help with a “tick check” as ticks are often found in areas on the body that are hard to spot: the groin, armpits and scalp.

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria that lives in wild animals such as mice and deer, and is transmitted by ticks. A red bump often appears after a tick bite and doesn’t necessarily indicate that Lyme disease has been transmitted.

"A tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours or more before Lyme disease can be transferred to the host,” said Ian Ledford, DO, second year resident at Samaritan Internal Medicine – Corvallis. “Adult ticks are fairly easy to see even if you’re not looking for them, but immature ‘nymph’ ticks are extremely small — about the size of a crayon tip — and actually transmit more cases of Lyme disease because people don’t spot them."

Symptoms of Lyme disease include a rash in a bulls-eye pattern that develops three to 30 days after the bite, and flu-like symptoms. If left untreated, a Lyme infection could also lead to more serious symptoms such as joint pain and neurological problems.

Lyme disease is just one of several tick-borne illnesses, so if you develop any symptoms following a tick bite, see your doctor even if the symptoms go away.

Your dog may be at a greater risk for Lyme disease and can bring infected ticks into your home. In 2015, 120 cases of Lyme disease were reported in dogs in Oregon. Simple flea and tick prevention medication can help control the problem in pets.

For humans, Dr. Ledford recommends these tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Avoid areas with high grass and leaf litter and walk in the center of trails when hiking.

  • Use repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 on exposed skin for protection that lasts several hours.

  • Use products that contain permethrin to treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents or look for clothing pre-treated with permethrin.

  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors to wash off and more easily find crawling ticks before they bite you.

  • Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon returning from tick-infested areas. Parents should help children check thoroughly for ticks. Remove any ticks right away.

  • Tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing after you come indoors. If the clothes are damp, additional time may be needed.

Dr. Ledford reports that it’s ok to remove a tick with tweezers. Just get as close to the skin as possible and remove with steady even pressure. If any of the mouth parts break off in the skin, remove with tweezers. Wash the area with soap and water and dispose of the tick down the toilet or by wrapping it tightly in tape. Don’t try to use a match to heat the tick or nail polish to “gas” it so it falls off naturally. Removing the tick quickly and efficiently is more important.

Learn more about Lyme disease in our health library.  See the incidence of Lyme disease in Oregon compared to the rest of the U.S..  Learn about the different types of ticks and diseases they spread with interactive maps from the CDC.