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News / Health / Clark County Health

Tick season is here: Here’s how to protect yourself from the blood-feeding parasites

Reported cases on rise across United States

By Chrissy Booker, Columbian staff writer
Published: July 8, 2024, 4:45pm

Local health officials are warning the community of a potential increase in tick activity as summer persists.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported human encounters with ticks, small blood-feeding parasites, have skyrocketed in the past four years due to climate change and urban development, which has expanded their territory.

Ticks are most prevalent during the spring and summer. But in any given year, the number of ticks in an area will be different from state to state, and even county to county, according to the CDC.

Ticks can carry many diseases, including anaplasmosis, babesiosis, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tick-borne relapsing fever, tick paralysis and tularemia.

In the Pacific Northwest, few tick-borne disease cases are reported each year, according to the Washington State Department of Health. Last year, the state health department collected only two ticks from human hosts in Clark County.

From 2020 to 2023, Clark County Public Health recorded 15 cases of tick-borne diseases, eight of which were cases of Lyme disease. Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread through the bite of blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks. The typical symptoms are flu-like and include fever, headache, fatigue and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans, which has a bull’s-eye appearance. If left untreated, the infection can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system.

In the past six years, an average of 40 to 50 cases of Lyme disease have been reported in Oregon each year, according to the Oregon Department of Public Health’s latest count.

The total number of tick-borne cases in the United States increased from 50,863 in 2019, to 71,346 in 2022.

Alexis Smithers, director of advanced practice providers at Legacy-GoHealth Urgent Care in Portland, shared tips with the community on how to prevent and treat tick-borne diseases.

“Most outdoorsy people are rightly wary of the tiny arthropods, which despite their painless bites can transmit more than a dozen harmful diseases,” Smithers said. “If you’re outside regularly, use an insect repellent containing DEET to prevent ticks from getting on your body.”

Washington is home to blacklegged ticks, which commonly live in grassy, brushy or wooded areas. The American dog tick and Rocky Mountain wood tick are most commonly found in the eastern portion of the state.

“If you find a tick, remove it immediately. The longer it is embedded, the greater the chance it can transmit diseases,” Smithers said. “While some tick diseases can be transmitted in minutes, the bacteria that causes Lyme lives in the tick’s midgut and isn’t usually transmitted until the tick has fed for 36 hours or more.”

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Smithers recommends checking children for ticks and paying special attention to hiding places: in and around hair, in and behind ears, in body folds, the belly button and around the waist.

Those who spend a lot of time outdoors in tick habitat should put their clothes in the dryer and run it on high heat for at least 10 minutes, Smithers said. High heat kills ticks because they are sensitive to arid environments.

Pets can carry ticks and are susceptible to some tick-borne diseases, too. However, Smithers encourages people to talk to their veterinarian before using pesticides and repellents around pets.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s search tool can help people find a suitable repellent to protect against ticks. You can submit ticks found on yourself or pets for identification through the Washington State Department of Health’s tick submission form.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.