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Tick season in Colorado: What you need to know

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Posted at 3:41 PM, Jun 05, 2017
and last updated 2017-06-05 17:41:13-04

DENVER – Summer is here and many Coloradans will be venturing to the high country, where blood-feeding ticks are eager to welcome the seasonal influx of visitors.

Tick season is upon us and health experts predict this will be the worst season ever for tick-borne diseases.

In Colorado, Rocky Mountain wood tick and the American dog tick are the most common ticks associated with people. They are particularly common at higher elevations.

According to the Colorado State University Extension Office, Colorado tick fever is by far the most common tick-transmitted disease of the region. Despite its name, Rocky Mountain spotted fever is quite rare here. Also, no human cases of Lyme disease have originated in Colorado.

How to protect yourself

The CSU Extension office has the following tips to minimize the risk of a tick-borne disease.

DEET
This is the most effective tick repellent. The active ingredient is found in most common insect repellents, such as Cutters and Off! Apply it to pants or other areas of the lower body.

Avoid the parasite’s habitat
Ticks are most active in spring and early summer and concentrate where their animal hosts most commonly travel. This includes brushy areas along the edges of fields and woodlands or commonly traveled paths through grassy areas and shrublands.

Wear protective clothing
Long pants, long-sleeved shirts and other clothing can help exclude ticks or keep them from attaching to the skin. Ticks are usually acquired while brushing against low vegetation, so pulling socks over the bottom of the pants leg also is useful. Light-colored clothing can make it easier to find ticks that have been picked up.

Conduct tick checks
Ticks take several hours to settle and begin feeding. This gives you ample time to detect and remove them. The Rocky Mountain wood tick typically takes 12 to 24 hours to start feeding. Therefore, a thorough “tick check” can be an effective alternative to repellents. After walking through areas where ticks might be present, carefully look for and remove any ticks you may have picked up.

How to properly remove a tick

With clean tweezers, grab the little bloodsucker as close to the skin as possible. Steadily pull with consistent pressure and make sure not to twist. You don’t want to break it in half with part of the tick still attached. 

Clean the bite area with soap and water or rubbing alcohol ASAP.  

DO NOT throw away the tick. If you are in the woods wrap it in duct tape. Once you are home preserve it in rubbing alcohol. This sounds crazy right? Well it’s not. If a rash starts to appear within a few weeks you are going to want to have it to show to your doctor. It’s also not a bad idea to try to identify the tick and see if it is one of the species that can carry Lyme Disease or rocky mountain spotted fever.

DO NOT follow any folklore removal recipes. Don’t use a knife, don’t apply heat, don’t try and crush it with your hands, don’t rub random stuff on it such as a little dirt and spit, stove fuel or your famous camping hot sauce. Always remember, the best way to avoid all this hassle is to take the proper steps to avoid tick bites in the first place. 

Beware of these ticks found outside the state

Outside of Colorado, there are species of ticks that can cause strange and sometimes deadly reactions. One bite from a Lone Star tick and you could all of a sudden develop a severe allergy to red meat.  The bite can lead to a sensitivity to a sugar called alpha-gal, which is in red meat, like beef and pork.

It's currently unknown how many people have developed this red meat allergy in the U.S. But a doctor told NBC earlier this year, as many as 5 percent of people living in areas where the Lone Star tick is common could develop it.

A rare tick-borne disease called Powassan has health experts concerned. The potentially life-threatening virus is carried and transmitted by three types of ticks, including the deer tick that transmits Lyme disease.

Over the past decade, 75 cases have been reported in the northeastern states and the Great Lakes region, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.