Encounters with ticks create risks for disease
With more and more people heading into Utah's high country, the chances of encountering ticks and the diseases associated with the insects mount.
Ticks carry a number of diseases, with the two most well known being Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme disease. The propensity for ticks to carry diseases was first noticed by scientists toward the end of the 19th century and by the end of the last century, several diseases were recognized as being passed on by ticks. Some diseases are regional in nature, others are widespread, literally throughout the world..
The report of cases connected to tick born diseases increases dramatically during the early spring and continues into mid-summer.
In the mountains, tick activity reaches at its peak during late June.
Ticks are most common in the mountains where they tend to concentrate on sunny southern slopes and in areas with grass and low brush vegetation. However, the insects also can live in the valleys, including the Carbon County area.
There are many misconceptions about how ticks can latch onto people. Some people believe that the ticks live in trees and drop onto passersby. But generally, insects stay on the ground and when someone or an animal walks by, they latch on to the host and immediately begin to look for a place where they can dig into the skin.
Most experts say that the best way to avoid getting tick born diseases is to wear light clothing so that ticks can be easily spotted.
It is also a good idea to wear some type of insect repellent particularly on the legs and ankles when walking through underbrush or mountain grasses. But because of the insects' ability to latch on quickly, probably the best way to avoid having a tick burrow in is to conduct regular checks.
When hiking or walking through areas where ticks might exist travelers should do a complete inspection of each other head to toe every couple of hours.
One of the most likely places ticks will embed is in the hair just above the neck. They also seem to like areas around joints and private parts of the body.
Frequent checks are important because it generally takes a tick about an hour to find a place to embed once the insect has latched onto the host. After the insect has embedded, it takes about 24 hours of feeding before the tick can begin to pass on an illness.Quick discovery and removal of ticks is of the utmost importance.
During the year,s various people have come up with ways to pull ticks out or have them back out of the skin if they become embedded.
People have used oil, ammonia, fingernail polish or even the heat from a match to get ticks out from under the skin. However, the methods can cause the insects to regurgitate into the wound, creating a higher risk of disease transmission.
"The fact is that folklore about how to remove ticks generally doesn't work well," notes Terri Wright of the Southeastern Utah Health District. "People use something like that and it works once and they tell others about it. Then it becomes a practice."
Experts indicate that ticks secrete a type of glue when feeding and that is why it is not easy to remove the insects.
Most experts explain that grabbing the tick with a fine pair of tweezers and pulling straight out with a rolling motion is the best way to remove the insects. The glue secreted by the insects will cause a resistance, but the ticks will come out.
Carbon County residents should never bend, tear or jerk at the embedded ticks.
"One of the things we tell people is that, if a tick bites them and they remove it, they should write down the date it occurred," points out Wright. "That way, if they do start to get sick, they can compare the date with the onset of the illness."
There are a several places on the human body where, if the ticks dig in, the victim should immediately consult a doctor. The areas include the ear canal or other sensitive parts of the anatomy.
Diseases transmitted by the ticks are called ricketssial illnesses. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is caused by a species of bacteria called rickettsia rickettsii.
The disease was recognized by scientists in 1896 in the Snake River Valley in Idaho.
At first, the Rocky Mountain spotted fever was called "black measles" because of the rash that appears with the onset of the disease.
Eventually, Rocky Mountain spotted fever was recognized as a disease occurring throughout the United States and a great deal of research was put into dealing with the tick-related illness.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is often misdiagnosed in its early stages. It begins with a fever, headache and aching muscles. Some people think they have the flu. Then the rash appears on the patient.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be fatal if not diagnosed properly and treated. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control 3 to 5 percent of the people who contact the disease die from the illness even with the medical advances.
As late as the 1940s, in the neighborhood of 30 percent of the individuals infected with Rock Mountain spotted fever passed away as a result of the disease.
Lyme disease as a malady was found much later. It was named in 1977 from an outbreak among children in a town named Lyme, Connecticut.
In 2002, more than 23,000 infections were reported in the country, all caused by the bite of deer ticks. While the disease does exist in the western United States, most cases occur in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic states.
Another less dangerous disease that is common to the Castle Valley area is Colorado tick fever. The disease shows up as a viral malady that occurs three to five days after a tick bite
The symptoms of Colorado tick fever include fever, chills, a severe headache, muscle pain and heavy fatigue. Most people spend a week being sick with one day in the middle feeling pretty good. As of yet there is no real treatment for this disease.
Since all these maladies seem to start a lot like the flu sometimes people wait until too late to get them diagnosed. Wright has some advice for those who may experience symptoms.
"I like to tell people if it hits hard and fast, and it occurs during a season when flu is prevalent (the spring or summer) and they have been bit by a tick or have removed one, they should consult a physician."