DPHHS Offers Prevention Tips To Avoid Tick Bites This Spring & Summer
April 28, 2021 | View PDF
As Montanans look to enjoy the outdoors this spring and summer, state and local public health officials urge everyone to follow a few simple steps to prevent tick bites and related illnesses: Limit exposure to ticks, use insect repellent, and inspect yourself, gear, and pets for ticks.
Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) officials say each tick season is unpredictable. However, each year thousands of people in the U.S. are bitten by ticks and become infected with a tick-borne illness.
DPHHS communicable disease epidemiologist Erika Baldry emphasizes the best way to avoid tick-borne illnesses is to prevent tick bites. “There’s numerous prevention measures Montanans can take to avoid tick bites while still enjoying the abundance of outdoor opportunities available in the state,” Baldry said.
Public health departments in Montana investigate reports of tick-borne illnesses every year and monitor trends closely as tick-borne diseases are on the rise across the country. Over the past two decades, several new tickborne diseases that can cause illness have been identified in the U.S. Recently identified tick diseases in the U.S. include Heartland and Bourbon virus.
“While these new diseases have not been reported in Montana, we do receive reports of many others,” Baldry said. Commonly reported tick-borne diseases in Montana include, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease, tickborne relapsing fever, tularemia, and Colorado tick fever virus (CTFV).
In recent years, cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and CTFV have increased in Montana. Typically, the most common tickborne illness acquired in Montana is Rocky Mountain spotted fever, with a ten-year average of eight cases reported each year. However, in 2020, Montana had 17 cases of CTFV reported, which was an increase from the average of one to two cases per year.
While the state’s tick experts continue to look, the tick that causes Lyme disease, Ixodes scapularis, has not been found in Montana. To date, all but a single case of Lyme disease reported in Montana have been associated with travel to other areas of the United States and are not believed to have been acquired in the state.
Other reported tick-borne illnesses believed to be acquired out-of-state include anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis and babesiosis. All diseases listed previously can cause serious illness.
To avoid tick-borne illness, public health officials recommend:
• Avoid areas with high grass and leaf litter and walk in the center of trails when hiking.
• Use EPA-registered insect repellent.
• Treat clothing and gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin. Permethrin can be used to treat boots, clothing and camping gear and remain protective through several washings. Alternatively, you can buy permethrin-treated clothing and gear.
• Bath or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors can help you find and wash off crawling ticks before they bite you. Paying close attention to areas where ticks like hide, under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, back of the knees, in and around the hair, between the legs, and around the waist is important.
• After leaving the outdoors, check your clothing, gear and pets for ticks.
• Put dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks after you come indoors. If the clothes are damp, dry thoroughly and then tumble dry on high for 10 more minutes.
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, many present with general flu-like symptoms so it’s important to communicate exposure risk to your provider,” Baldry stresses “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.
1. Use fine-tipped, “pointy” tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
2. 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.
3. 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 DPHHS website at http://www.dphhs.mt.gov.