My wife and I were traveling this past weekend, near New Orleans, when I reached down to pull what I thought was a tiny scab off my ankle. Lo and behold, that little scab was not a scab at all.
The tick came off easily enough, and I think I removed it before it really had a chance to attach and start feeding. I wondered if I should get antibiotics straight away and what the different signs were that I should watch for.
Then I wondered if we have ticks in Colorado. You don’t hear too much about them, and often times what you do hear — i.e., touching them with a lit match or rubbing petroleum jelly to remove them — is erroneous.
So here’s what’s actually happening on the ground in the Centennial state, according to Colorado State University Cooperative Extension.
Colorado does, in fact, have ticks, with the most common associated with people being the Rocky Mountain wood tick and American dog tick. As far as tick-transmitted diseases, Colorado tick fever is by far the most common, then there’s Rocky Mountain spotted fever (rare), and Relapsing Fever/Borreliosis (very rare). There are no documented human cases of Lyme disease in Colorado.
So where do these things live, how do you avoid them, and how do you take care of them if one happens to take a liking to you? Well, ticks are most active in spring and early summer — starting in March and peaking in May — and they tend to be more common in higher elevations, in general gravitating toward brushy areas along fields and woodlands and grassy areas and shrublands.
The best way to avoid them is by shying away from these areas, however, that isn’t practical for many people. If you know you’re going to be in tick-infested locations, cover your skin as much as possible. Think long pants, tucked into your boots, and a long-sleeved shirt that covers your arms. DEET is the most effective tick repellent, and there is also something out there called Permethrin which is military-grade and can kill ticks rapidly. This is only to be applied to clothing and gear, NOT to skin.
Perhaps the most effective thing you can do is a tick check after you get home. Thankfully, ticks take several hours to settle and start feeding. Comb your body carefully, doing a detailed check. Should you happen to find one, here’s what you do. Grip it with blunt tweezers as close to the skin as possible and gently, but steadily, pull it straight away from the skin, trying not to crush it. If tweezers aren’t available, cover your fingers with tissue or thin plastic and do the same thing. After it’s been removed, wash the area and treat it with disinfectant.
If the tick was engorged when you removed it, meaning it had been attached and feeding for some time (we’re talking 24 to 36 hours in some cases), definitely keep a closer eye on the area where it was removed and how you feel. Any flu-like symptoms, fatigue and the like means it time to contact a physician for a diagnosis and treatment.