Illnesses on the rise from mosquito, tick and flea bites
The CDC reported in the past 13 years, the number of reported tick-borne illnesses more than doubled to 48,000 in 2016. That report, coupled with accounts from across the country of mass tick infestations and strange diseases, has some worried.
However, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare data show that reports of tick-borne diseases remain incredibly low in our state, bucking the national trend.
Between 2004 and 2016, the most recent year available, Idaho saw 186 reports of tick-borne illness — the eighth lowest number of any state. By contrast, some New England states had as many as 73,000 reports in the same time period.
"Cases of Lyme disease in Idaho mostly occur in people who traveled to other areas of the country where infected ticks have been found," said IDHW spokeswoman Niki Forbing-Orr.
What Idahoans do have to be careful of is Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, tick-borne relapsing fever and tularemia, Forbing-Orr said. IDHW tracks annual reports of each.
In 2016, Idahoans reported zero cases of relapsing fever, down from a high of five reported cases in the early 1990s and three annual reports in the mid-2000s.
Similarly, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever hit an all-time high in 2006, when Idahoans reported 14 instances of the disease, sending the state's rate of infection per 100,000 people slightly higher than the national average. Reports of that disease have followed national trends for several years, with seven instances of RMSF reported in Idaho in 2016. Still, the rate of infection fell far below the national average.
In recent years, reports of tularemia have been slightly more numerous and consistent, though the highest number of reports IDHW has ever received is three in one year.
Ticks are most active from May through July, though the CDC warns it's difficult to gauge disease risk year-by-year since tick populations frequently change depending on temperature, humidity and available hosts.
On social media, Boiseans are already reporting tick sightings after spending time in the Foothills, at local parks and walking pets through residential areas. But that doesn't necessarily translate to tick-borne illness.
"We don’t track tick bites, because a bite, in and of itself, is not reportable," said Forbing-Orr. "And most people don’t seek treatment unless the bite develops into a rash or another symptom of a tick-borne disease."
IDHW offers several suggestions to reduce your likelihood of contracting a tick-borne illness:
- For mosquitoes and ticks, use insect repellent approved by the EPA on exposed skin and clothing. Follow instructions on the product label, especially if you’re applying it to children.
- Ticks will be more visible if you wear light-colored shirts and pants outdoors.
- Check for and remove ticks from your clothing, body, hair and pets when you have been in tick habitat. (Which includes your backyard.)
- If a tick is biting you, use a fine tweezers or notched tick extractor to remove it as close to the skin as possible. Pull upward with a steady, even pressure, being careful not to break off the head or squeeze, crush, or puncture the body of the tick. Disinfect the bite site and wash your hands with soap and water.
- Talk to your veterinarian about tick prevention products for your pets. Ticks can hitch a ride on your pet and end up in your home.