Wet spring brings fierce tick, mosquito season
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — With a really snowy winter and a wet spring, UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center’s “bug” expert warns of an increase in ticks and mosquitos.
Moffatt County has found West Nile virus in its recent mosquito testing, but the Rocky Mountain tick may be the biggest worry right now, according to Lauren Bryan, epidemiologist and infection preventionist at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs.
“We had such a wet year. Grasses are taller, and that’s where the ticks live,” Bryan said.
She said the ticks love to hop into any crevice on your body.
“Behind your ankles, knees, behind your ears, arm pits — they like nice little hidden places where they can hide and not get brushed off,” Bryan explained.
Fortunately, the only tick found in Routt County is the Rocky Mountain wood tick, and it doesn’t carry lyme disease like the ticks found in other parts of the country. However, the Rocky Mountain tick carries several diseases including Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which is rare, tularemia and the Colorado tick virus.
Tularemia, sometimes called rabbit fever, is a bacteria spread through droppings of small ground animals that have been bitten by ticks, Bryan said.
“It’s a really interesting bug because you can be mowing the lawn, and it can take flight and you can inhale it and get sick,” she said.
The Colorado tick virus is a virus caught after the tick bites a human, and it causes fever, chills and headaches. Symptoms usually go away in 10 days and rarely result in serious sickness.
However, Bryan warns that everyone should check their bodies after any hiking or playing in high grass because “the longer the tick is on you, the longer it has to infect you.”
Rocky Mountain spotted fever is more rare, but it can be fatal if not treated with antibiotics.
Bryan recommends seeing a doctor if you develop any fever, rash and body aches after a tick bite, just in case it’s the more serious Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
She also said the West Nile virus has been found in Craig this summer, which means it’s likely present in the mosquitos in Steamboat Springs because it’s spread through the bird population.
While applying DEET bug repellants on exposed skin is the best way to fight mosquitos, Bryan suggests spraying clothing with “permethrin” found at outdoor shops.
“It lasts for 20 washings,” she said. Permethrin can repel both ticks and mosquitos, and Consumer Reports and the Centers for Disease Control said it’s effective in repelling ticks and mosquitos but still not as effective as DEET.
Bryan said if your animals aren’t treated for ticks with monthly medication, make sure to check them regularly, especially in the crevices of their paws.
As for removing ticks, Bryan said to use tweezers to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible.
“You don’t want that head to stay in your skin, and use rubbing alcohol to clean the area,” Bryan said.
Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for the Steamboat Pilot & Today.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever symptoms
• High fever
• Severe headache
• Muscle aches
• Nausea and vomiting
• Confusion or other neurological changes
Tularemia symptoms from tick bite
• A skin ulcer that forms at the site of infection — usually an insect or animal bite.
• Swollen and painful lymph glands.
Colorado Tick Virus
• Redness at bite area
• Body aches
• Fever up to 105°F
• Severe headache
• Light sensitivity
• Muscle aches
• Skin tenderness
• Loss of appetite
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