The Trouble with Ticks

Types of tick-borne illnesses, prevention and treatment

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Ticks live in tall grass, low-to-the-ground shrubs or plants, waiting for a host to walk by.

Ticks are tiny arachnids that are responsible for spreading potentially life-threatening infectious diseases, according to medical professionals. Whether you hike, your pet plays outside, or you live in a rural area, local doctors believe it’s important to educate yourself about ticks, what diseases they carry and how to prevent and treat tick bites.

Types of tick-borne illnesses

Ticks carry several diseases, not just Lyme disease, explains Dr. Cory Tichauer, a naturopathic doctor with Bear Creek Naturopathic Clinic in Medford. “I refer to ticks as nature’s dirty needles,” he says, adding that some of the diseases ticks carry include Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis and Lyme disease. He explains Lyme disease is an infection transmitted through the bite of an infected tick, and symptoms include joint pain, headaches and muscle weakness. If left untreated, he says Lyme disease could spread to other parts of the body for months or years after the initial infection, and cause arthritis or nervous system issues.

However, not all ticks carry Lyme disease, according to Kristen Plunkett, a naturopathic doctor with Naturopathic Medical Clinic in Grants Pass. Two species of tick are the Deer tick and the American dog tick; the former carries Lyme disease, while the latter does not, she explains. “Deer ticks are often found in the western states, including Oregon,” she says, adding they inhabit shaded, grassy areas usually frequented by warm-blooded animals.

Ticks and the environment

While the percentage of infected ticks hasn’t risen, Tichauer says that people are coming into contact with ticks more often and an increased knowledge about tick bites has led to more diagnoses of Lyme disease. However, he notes environmental changes are impacting the tick population, and that climate change has resulted in more ticks in higher elevations. “The lack of a hard freeze is allowing adult ticks to overwinter when they normally wouldn’t,” he says.

Plunkett agrees. “I’m seeing more tick bites in the winter. The ticks don’t die off when it’s not as cold,” she says. With an increase in tick bites during cooler weather, she believes people must be proactive about ticks.

“The incidents of Lyme disease hasn’t changed, but with population growth into rural areas and increased contact, it’s more important than ever to stay vigilant about ticks.”

– Dr. Cory Tichauer, Bear Creek Naturopathic Clinic, Medford

Prevention and treatment

There are preventative measures you can take to avoid ticks, says Tichauer. “Wear light-colored clothes so it’s easier to see ticks,” he explains. You should also tuck your pants into your socks, he says, because ticks usually sneak in under the pant leg.

Before going outside, Plunkett suggests spraying essential oils or DEET on your clothes to repel ticks. “Lemon eucalyptus is especially effective against ticks,” she adds. If you find a tick bite, she says it’s important to get a test and receive treatment as soon as possible.

Try to determine how long the tick has attached to you or if it’s engorged with blood, says Tichauer. It’s possible to transmit Lyme disease within hours of the bite, he explains, but that’s not as likely if the tick has been attached for less than 12 hours. “You also want to try and test the tick because that’s more accurate than testing the person,” he says.

Plunkett concurs, noting timing is everything. “People treated with the right antibiotics in the early stages of Lyme disease usually recover fully,” she says.

Staying educated about ticks

Tichauer and Plunkett agree that education, prevention and testing are important when dealing with ticks. “The incidence of Lyme disease hasn’t changed, but with population growth into rural areas and increased contact, it’s more important than ever to stay vigilant about ticks,” says Tichauer.

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More to Explore

What to do when you find a tick

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  • Use fine tweezers and grab the tick as close to the skin as possible.
  • Do not grab the tick’s abdomen.
  • Pull the tick straight out.
  • Do not squeeze or aggravate the tick.
  • Clean the bite area with soap and rubbing alcohol.
  • Apply antibiotic cream
  • Monitor the site of the bite. If you develop rash, swelling, fever, chills or aches, visit your health provider.
  • Save the tick if possible for identification if needed.

See an animated video on removing ticks by the Tick Encounter Resource Center at https://www.youtube.com/user/TickEncounter

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