Quandary: Ticks in the High Country and what they can do to you
Are there ticks in
Summit County and do they carry diseases?
Poor precious little human, worried about those itty-bitty bugs, are you? Well good, you should be. These bite-happy little buggers are more than a nuisance simply because of the diseases they can carry. There are seven varieties of people-eating ticks in the U.S., but luckily, only two varieties live in the Colorado mountains. The brown dog tick is found throughout the U.S., and shockingly it mostly affects dogs. These little blood suckers can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF), and though most prominent in the Southwest, cases have been seen in Colorado as well. While a fun name for a disease, there is nothing enjoyable about Rocky Mountain spotted fever. You’ll know whether you’ve been touched by a bug fairly quickly after contact as symptoms begin 2-14 days after the little sucker sinks his teeth into you.
Just because I’m an ornery old goat, let’s go with the self-diagnosis/online doctor version of this illness. For anyone who has used WebMD in the past you probably know where this is leading already. The symptoms for RMSF really sound like a bad hangover, but with a hangover you might want to die, while with RMSF it’s an actual possibility if you don’t seek treatment within 8 days of symptoms occurring. Depending on how feeble your immune system is treatment could be as simple as taking some medicine for a few days or you could land in intensive care. Either way, this little bugger is not something to take lightly. If you experience fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, muscle pain or a rash, seek help. Unfortunately this illness is not that easy to diagnose — as you can probably guess from the commonplace symptoms — so you might have to go back to the doc multiple times. Don’t you love a bug that not only drains your blood, but your wallet too? There can be long-term consequences in severe cases as well, but even I’m not mean enough to start listing those. So for all the hypochondriacs out there, feel free to visit the tick page on the Center for Disease Control to make sure you never want to venture into the woods again.
In case your skin isn’t crawling already, the Rocky Mountain wood tick is our second species and it only lives in the western U.S. and southern Canada at elevations between 4,000 and 10,000 feet — don’t you feel special? The babies in this species aren’t real ankle biters, but the adults are, and unfortunately it’s the adults that carry the diseases. Rocky Mountain wood ticks can carry RMSF along with Colorado tick fever and tularemia. Since we’ve already covered the horrible consequences of RMSF let’s switch gears to our state’s namesake illness.
Colorado tick fever is generally not as severe as RMSF, and it’s a good thing because there is no medication or treatment to get rid of the illness. This is one that you pretty much have to cowboy up and get over, but in severe cases you might need IV fluids and pain meds to help with your cowboying. Symptoms occur 1-14 days after the love-bite and include fever, chills, headache, body aches and feeling tired. Some patients have sore throat, vomiting, abdominal pain or skin rash, and of course there are dire consequences and an uncertain future if you want to go down that rabbit hole. This illness can also be a real jerk because you are likely to get a biphasic fever, meaning you feel really sick, then you are way better, then you get sick again. Yeah, ticks really know how to bug people.
Last, but certainly not least in the scare factor is tularemia. This bacteria is not only carried by ticks but can contaminate water, dead animals and even food. Depending on how you get it, your symptoms will present differently. The CDC, in all its helpfulness explains that cases of tularemia can vary from “mild to life-threatening” with fevers up to 104 degrees. Again, I’ll save some of the gory details for your late-night online searches, but if you get infected by a tick your symptoms will either present as ulceroglandular or glandular. The first involves a big ulcer that pops up at the site where the bacteria entered the body and both varieties come with swelling in your lymph nodes. You can be sick for several weeks after this particular bite, and diagnosing this rare disease is difficult, but it can be taken care of with antibiotics and is far less likely to end horribly for you than the aforementioned diseases.
So now that you know all the terrible consequences of one or two little bug bites, how do you avoid them? It’s really pretty simple, my friend. When you go out hiking wear bug spray with DEET (I know hypochondriacs rejoice, the prevention is nearly as scary as the disease), wear long sleeves and pants and thick socks. If you find yourself just too irresistible for a little bug in this big bad world, use fine-tipped tweezers to end the relationship. Aren’t you glad we don’t have all seven tick species here?
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