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Spring is here. That means ticks, snakes and poison oak dangers are lurking

Mayo Clinic: 4 ways to avoid ticks

Whether you’re camping, hiking or near brushy and wooded areas, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says tick bites should be top of mind.
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Whether you’re camping, hiking or near brushy and wooded areas, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says tick bites should be top of mind.

The grass is getting longer, the birds are singing and the animals are coming out to enjoy the warmth and profusion of food that is in ever-increasing abundance.

And that means it is tick season, and there are snakes and poison oak and other hazards in abundance along the trails in the area.

It is important to know where you will encounter them, how they can be avoided, and how to deal with them.

Ticks are small, blood-feeding parasites that can transmit and cause serious diseases. In our area, ticks can be found just about everywhere — in the tall grasses, low-lying shrubs or overhanging trees.

They can be encountered just about anywhere people and their animals walk, from the banks of the river, in the sage and along tree-covered paths, anywhere from along the local riverbanks to the alpine areas in the mountains.

They sense and then drop onto animals as they pass by or brush up against plants, and once on board they crawl around and find a good spot to grab hold with their pincers and feed on the blood of their unsuspecting host.

Their body swells and they gorge on the blood. Research conducted on ticks in Washington state by Dr. Elizabeth Dykstra, public health entomologist for the Washington state Department of Health’s Zoonotic Disease Program, indicates that about 1 to 2 percent of the ticks tested were found to harbor the pathogens that cause diseases like lyme disease, or tick fever.

Studies show that ticks on the western side of the state have higher prevalence of disease pathogens than on the eastern portions of the state.

You avoid ticks by staying on trails and away from vegetation. Wear a hat, long sleeve shirts and pants to cover your skin.

Pull your socks over the cuffs of your pants to prevent ticks from finding their way under your clothes to your skin. Wear light-colored, tightly woven clothing, which will allow the dark tick to be seen more easily.

The tight weave makes it harder for the tick to attach itself. Insect repellents that contains DEET can be effective in repelling ticks.

Outdoor retailers now offer clothing that has been treated with permethrin, which is a tick and mosquito repellent.

Do a “tick inspection” every few hours when outside, checking yourself and your children and your pets carefully, head to toe.

Ticks like tight places, like waistbands and tops of socks.

Check on the head, neck, ears, under arms, between legs, and back of knees. Look for what may appear like a new freckle or speck of dirt. Ticks can take up to several hours to embed, which gives you time to find them first and remove them.

ticks.jpg
Courtesy of the California Department of Health

Check your pets the same way especially after they spend time outdoors.

Run your fingers through your pet’s fur with gentle pressure to feel for any small bumps. Look closely for ticks in and around their ears, eyelids, around their neck and collar, in between their legs, between their toes, all over their fur, and around their tail. Hunters and their dogs need to devote extra care looking for ticks because of the time they spend in tick-infested areas.

Shower or bathe (preferably within two hours after being in tick habitat) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you. If you find a tick, it is important to remove it as soon as possible. Using fine-tipped tweezers, carefully grab the tick body as close to your skin surface as possible and slowly pull upward with a steady, even pressure, with no twists or jerks.

Do your best and check to see that mouth parts have broken off and remains embedded inside. Then wash and disinfect the bite site carefully and thoroughly and wash your hands.

Don’t just throw a tick away! Dispose of a live tick by either covering it completely and thoroughly on all sides with tape; or put it in a container of rubbing alcohol, or flush it down the toilet.

Note the date that you found the tick attached to you, just in case you become ill. If a fever, rash, or flu-like illness occurs within a month, let your doctor know that you were bitten by a tick.

This information may assist your doctor in diagnosing your illness. The state of Washington Department of Health recommends that people avoid the folk remedies regarding how to remove a tick.

Hot matches or coating the tick’s body with petroleum jelly, soap, or nail polish or minty oils do little to encourage a tick to detach from skin.

In fact, they may make matters worse by irritating the tick and causing it to release additional saliva, increasing the chance of transmitting disease.

These methods of tick removal should be avoided.

Watch for snakes on trails

The warmer weather is also bringing the small critters and their predators out of hibernation.

Morning trail walkers are seeing more and more snakes on local trails all over the region.

rattlesnake
Morning trail walkers are seeing more and more snakes on local trails all over the region. Philip Kahn

You can tell the difference between a rattlesnake and a bull snake in several ways.

First, a rattlesnake will have a triangular-shaped head that is wider than its body.

A bull snake’s head is shaped like your index finger. Second, a rattlesnake may have a rattle, but it may have a pointed tail like a bull snake.

Third, a rattlesnake will raise its tail, especially if it coils; a bull snake tail lies flat along the ground. Finally, a rattlesnake has slit eyes, while the bull snake has dark, round, bulging eyes.

In any case, if you encounter a snake on a trail, step away from it quickly.

They can only strike from the distance of the length of their body. Keep children on the trails and pets on leash and under control, and away from the snakes.

Never reach into the base of sage and other shrubs near or adjacent to the trail. Rattlesnakes hide and take cover in the nooks and crannies at the base of shrubs and trees.

They sense temperature, and a warm finger looks just like a tasty mouse to them.

Poison oak

Poison oak is easy to identify. It is a low, shrubby plant that has three waxy, shiny leaves.

It is extremely common, especially along creek beds and valley bottoms of the Columbia, Yakima, and Snake rivers and adjacent areas.

Poison Oak is plentiful in the scrub brush so be careful
Be careful of the poison oak that’s plentiful in the scrub brush along the hike. Paul Krupin

Do your best to avoid coming into contact with poison oak.

It can cause a painful skin rash and require medical treatment. Keep pets away from the plant since the chemical can rub off and coat their fur.

If it has three leaves, leave it be. If you come in contact with poison oak, wash the affected area with soap and water immediately.

Paul Krupin is an avid local outdoor enthusiast and a member of the Intermountain Alpine Club (IMAC). He can be reached at pjkrupin@gmail.com. Photos (Paul Krupin).

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