Health officials offer advice to prevent tick bites

Posted at 1:24 PM, May 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-12 15:24:37-04

HELENA – As Montanans look to enjoy the great outdoors this spring and summer, state and local public health officials are urging recreationists to follow a few simple steps to prevent tick bites and their illnesses: Limit, repel, and inspect.

Officials said the best way to prevent tick-borne disease is to prevent tick bites.

State and local health officials receive reports of tick-borne illnesses every year and nationally tick-borne diseases are on the rise. Commonly reported tick-borne diseases in Montana include Rocky Mountain spotted fever, lyme disease, tickborne relapsing fever, tularemia, and Colorado tick fever.

In recent years, cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia have increased in Montana. The tick that causes lyme disease is not found in Montana. To date, cases reported in Montana have all been associated with travel to the Northeast and upper Midwest of the United States.

Other reported tick-borne illnesses believed to be acquired out of state include ehrlichiosis and babesiosis. All diseases listed above can cause serious illness.

Public health officials emphasize a 3-step approach to prevent tick bites:

  • LIMIT: Ticks live in wooded, brushy, or grassy areas so walk in the center of trails and mow your property where you and your pets spend time.
  • REPEL: Wear long, light-colored pants and socks to spot ticks more easily and use insect repellents. Those repellents containing up to 30 percent DEET can be used on the skin or clothing. Repellents with lower DEET concentrations might need to be applied more frequently. Repellents containing permethrin can be used on clothing, but not on skin. One application to pants, socks, and shoes may be effective through several washings.
  • INSPECT: Check your skin carefully for ticks after returning from outdoor activities especially if you were in wooded, brushy, or grassy areas. Common hiding places for ticks are the scalp, beard, back of the knees, armpits, groin, back of the neck, and behind the ears. De-ticking clothing is best done by throwing clothes into a drier on high for 10 minutes, even before washing.

The most common symptoms of tick-borne infections include fever and chills, aches and pains, rash, and fever of varying degrees. Although most are easily treated with antibiotics, these diseases can be difficult for physicians to diagnose. Early recognition and treatment of the infection decreases the risk of serious complications.

Individuals should see their healthcare provider immediately if they have been bitten by a tick and experience symptoms.

If a tick is found and is attached, follow these steps to safely remove the tick.

  • Use fine-tipped, “pointy” tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
  • Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
  • After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
  • Do not use folklore remedies such as “painting” the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. These methods are not recommended and may cause the tick to burrow deeper into the skin.

For more information about tick-borne illnesses, protection and detection efforts, visit the Montana health department website.