Ticks Increase Activity As Spring Arrives

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Montana's abundant spring and summer outdoor activities are right around the corner. But, before heading out to recreate, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services offered this reminder Thursday: It's also tick season.

An innocent hike, campout or even a few hours gardening in the backyard can put one in contact with the annoying parasites. Starting now until usually the end of July, blood-thirsty ticks are looking to make a home on any unsuspecting person. Peak tick season usually lands in May.

State epidemiologist Todd Damrow says the first preventive step is awareness. "Ticks have become active," Damrow said. "They are out feeding now. People should be aware of the possibility of picking up a tick. And, they should also be aware of measures to reduce risks of acquiring tick-borne diseases."

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The precautions are simple. For starters, Damrow suggests dressing appropriately. Wear light-colored clothing so ticks can be more readily seen, and tuck in pant legs so ticks can't crawl under clothing. The use of spray repellants can also be effective. It's best to stick to paths and avoid weedy areas. Ticks crawl up vegetation and then cling onto the first human or animal passerby.

While out enjoying the outdoors, take time to inspect for ticks, especially on children. Pay close attention around the ears, folds in the skin, under arms and in the hair. Once aboard, ticks usually crawl around for several hours before latching on, so there's a good chance of preventing a bite. Once a bite occurs, that's when disease-causing organisms can be transmitted from the tick to host.

Although cases are infrequent, ticks can transmit a variety of diseases, including Colorado tick fever, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, Q fever, tick paralysis and relapsing fever.

Contact with ticks isn't just limited to the wild. In recent years, as urban deer populations have increased, the DPHHS has learned of increased tick bites within the city limits. Deer moving into the city bring their parasites with them. "We are seeing a shift in location where people are picking ticks up right in town," Damrow said

Using tweezers is the best way to remove a tick while grasping it as close to the skin surface as possible and pulling upward with steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk the tick, as this may cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin. Wear latex gloves to protect against being exposed to infectious organisms. Once finished, wash thoroughly with soap and water and apply antiseptic.

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