Hiking, backpacking, camping, mountain biking … in the Pacific Northwest, we’re all about recreational activities. Unfortunately ticks also love this outdoor playground. While their numbers here are small compared to other regions of the U.S., these pests are becoming increasingly common. Even worse, scientists are reporting a serious new tick-borne virus called Powassan.
What you need to know about ticks and tick-related diseases
Ticks live on plants and trees in wooded, brushy, grassy places and shrub lands. They jump aboard passing animals and people in order to bite and feed on blood. Because ticks are very small (one-quarter inch or less), they’re hard to see or feel. They’re most active from May through July.
Tick bites can transmit infections, such as Lyme disease and Powassan virus. These conditions often begin with flu-like symptoms, and they can be serious, even deadly.
6 tips for avoiding ticks
The National Park Service and Washington State Department of Health offer a few simple precautions. Take these steps, and then head out to enjoy nature without fearing ticks.
- Wear long pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and a hat with a flap or brim to protect your neck.
- Tuck your pant legs into your socks or hiking boots, or wear gaiters. Keep your shirt tucked in, too.
- Choose light-colored clothing so you can see ticks more easily and brush them off if they hitch a ride.
- Spray Permethrin, a tick repellant, on your clothing. Avoid getting Permethrin on your skin.
- Spray DEET (30 percent) on any exposed skin.
- Check your clothes, your body, your children and your pets carefully for ticks. Look closely at the scalp, neck, ears, underarms, groin and back of the knees. You’re looking for a small, dark-colored insect or what appears to be a raised freckle or dirt spot.
- Shower and wash your hair within two hours of activity, if possible, to wash away ticks that may be crawling on you.
Removing a tick
If you find a tick on clothing or skin, brush it off. If a tick has already burrowed into the skin, follow these tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Use fine-tipped tweezers. Grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible.
- Pull the tick upward using steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick as this can break the tick, leaving its mouth parts in the skin. If this happens, try to remove the mouth parts with tweezers. If you cannot remove the mouth easily, wash the bite area, apply antiseptic, cover it with a bandage, and call your doctor.
- After removing the tick, clean the bite area and your hands thoroughly with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
- Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in rubbing alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag or jar/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.
- Avoid "home remedies," such as touching the tick with nail polish, petroleum jelly, rubbing alcohol or a hot match. These techniques don’t work and may cause more damage.
If you are bitten by a tick, watch for a rash, fever or other symptoms. Contact your doctor immediately if symptoms develop. If you don’t have a primary care provider, you may consult our Providence provider directory.