It's what nightmares are made of. You're enjoying a lovely spring day outside when suddenly you feel it. Something creeping...crawling...right up the back of your neck. You go to swat it away only to find that it's trying to make itself comfortable and stay awhile. You've found a tick.
After a short 1.5 mile hike around the Turnbull Wildlife Refuge yesterday, my pup and I returned to the car to do to our routine tick check. I took off her harness and her collar and lifted her chin. And there, crawling up her neck under her thin white fur, was one of the biggest ticks I've seen in ages. The bloodsucking parasite hadn't attached itself so I quickly removed it from her skin....only to see another. And another. Three on her sweet little neck just waiting to find the perfect spot to lay anchor. I picked up her harness and another is crawling across the strap. FOUR! A 20-minute walk and she managed to collect FOUR ticks.
I managed to collect one. Which I found crawling across my neck first thing this morning in bed.
Five ticks. One short hike.
We kept to the paved trail during our jaunt through the refuge except for one quick instance where Cricket wanted to go potty. Which resulted in her climbing a rock and the photo you see above. But getting to that rock meant walking through the tall grass...and THAT is where those evil little vermin are waiting.
So let's do some fact vs fiction when it comes to ticks.
Myth #1 - Ticks jump/fall out of trees.
Contrary to popular belief, ticks do not jump. Nor do they like trees. Ticks are CLIMBERS. They thrive in the tall grass you and your pup walk through on hikes. And they've perfected how to attach themselves to a host. According to the CDC, "While questing, ticks hold onto leaves and grass by their third and fourth pair of legs. They hold the first pair of legs outstretched, waiting to climb on to the host. When a host brushes the spot where a tick is waiting, it quickly climbs aboard."
Little dirty arms just outreached waiting to HUG you right? Not the hug I was looking for.
Myth #2 - If you get bit by a tick, you will get sick.
No, but you CAN get sick. In Washington, the Western black-legged tick (also known as a deer tick) is the one known to spread Lyme disease, but you'll typically only find it chillin' on the west side of the mountains.
Here in the Inland NW, ticks can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, but it’s rare. Species around Spokane and North Idaho include the Rocky Mountain wood tick and the brown dog tick (which is what I found on my dog, Cricket).
So here's the thing. You definitely can get sick if you are bitten, but only if you do nothing about it. If you can remove the tick within 24 hours, you (or your pup) should be okay. Very few people get to the point where those ticks are actually drawing blood from them, like in the case of me and my pup.
From 2000 to 2016 Spokane County reported 15 confirmed cases of Lyme Disease. However, due to the fact that the CDC's data only represents confirmed cases, the actual quantity of Lyme disease cases may be far greater. In fact, they estimate upward to 150 cases could be found in Spokane County.
As for the Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, zero to three cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever are identified in Washington each year. Some of the cases are infected in Washington, some are infected elsewhere.
The answer to all of this: BE PROACTIVE! EDUCATE YOURSELF!
- Wear an EPA-approved insect repellent when spending time outdoors.
- When doing yard work, hiking, or spending time in wooded or marshy areas, wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and socks (tuck those pants into your socks for a proactive fashion statement that will keep you even safer).
- Do what my pup and I do - a routine head-to-toe check for ticks after spending time in the wild. This includes your clothing and skin as well as your pups fur, ears and between their toes.
Myth #3 - The only way to remove an attached tick is by burning it.
As a child, this is what I remember. My Dad would come home from a long day working in the woods finding ticks attached to him regularly. And he'd pull out the matchstick. I thought he was a total badass. But Daddy-O had it wrong. While burning a tick off the skin may seem like a fool-proof way to get the blood-sucker off, it's also apparently the worst way to remove one. The CDC says applying heat can increase the tick's saliva production...meaning if it IS infected with something, this could increase pathogen transmission. Plus, you run the risk of burning yourself. And ending up with a tick AND a match head stuck in your skin. And that's no fun for anybody.
The best way to remove these stubborn little turds is to use tweezers and grab the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull straight out. Then wash the bite and your hands with rubbing alcohol and/or soap and water.
Myth #4 - A tick can still transmit disease if the head breaks off in the skin.
Head still attached to your body? Don't fret. It happens. Obviously, nobody wants to think about the decapitated tick leaving his best half in you or your pup's skin. But if you don't happen to get the whole tick out, the end of the world is not coming. Once the body has been removed, the tick can no longer transmit disease.
So here's the thing. Tick-borne diseases are serious business. I have a dear friend who is suffering greatly from Lyme Disease and it has truly caused nothing but agony for her. She lives in Spokane. And her advocacy on prevention and awareness has taught me more about ticks and Lyme than I've ever known before.
So rather than being fearful and hiding indoors this spring and summer, we need to educate ourselves and others on how to prevent these diseases from becoming bigger problems. We were all meant to live happily alongside each other on this beautiful planet. And with caution and knowledge, we can all live happily ever after.