Never pick up a hitchhiker

Never pick up a hitchhiker

Some years ago, our family vacationed in southeast Oregon and we camped by the Donner und Blitzen creek south of the Malheur National Wildlife refuge.

One fine afternoon the Parental Units hiked up the creek while the kids, eschewing dull hikes, stayed behind in camp. The hike was wonderful but when we got back to camp the favorite spouse and I found over 50 ticks on various parts of our clothing and anatomy.

Searching for ticks in the tent with a dying flashlight provided an interesting, although definitely not recommended, activity. A hot shower was sorely missed that night, that's for sure.

Almost everyone has probably had a few up close and personal experiences with those nasty little bloodsuckers, which in themselves are bad enough. But ticks are also the most important vector of infectious human disease in North America and worldwide are second only to mosquitoes!

The number of infections caused by tick bites appears to be increasing, likely due to the burgeoning numbers of deer and mice that primarily support tick populations. The risk of getting infected from a single bite is less than 1 percent, but over the course of your lifetime, many tick bites adds up to a significant risk.

Although tick-borne illnesses can be severe, even fatal, when diagnosed early they are generally fairly easy to treat - but the key is to be alert to the risks and knowledgeable about infection symptoms to look out for.

The first symptoms will likely be just a reaction to the tick bite itself and the chemicals the critter injects into your body, such as bruising, itchy patches, and even allergic-type reactions. There are a half-dozen or so serious infectious diseases we can get from ticks such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Colorado tick fever, Tularemia, Ehrlichiosis, Tick-borne relapsing fever and Babesiosis. Symptoms are often described as flu-like and include aches, pains, fatigue, headaches, arthritis, heart problems and ulcerations where bitten.

The symptoms can be quite varied and vague and easily confused with other illnesses so if you at all suspect ticks, discuss it with your physician. Here's something to think about: Over 50 percent of the people eventually diagnosed with a tick-related disease had no idea they were even bitten.

There are tests for many of the diseases but diagnosis can still be difficult. Because the diseases can become severe, it may be advisable to start treatment immediately without waiting for test results.

Here are some suggestions to limit your exposure to tick bites: Wear tick repellents such as permethrin or DEET; clean clothing thoroughly after use; shower and inspect for ticks or red spots where they may have bitten. If you find an attached tick, remove it by grabbing it close to the skin with fine tweezers and gently pull straight out. DO NOT grab the body, burn, or twist the tick as that will cause it to inject more material into your body.

Enjoy the great outdoors but be aware of tick problems, be careful to avoid bites and if concerned about a possible infection, talk to your physician.

Bob Parker is an OSU Forest Extension Agent. Parts of this article were adapted from "Tick-borne Illnesses: be aware, stay healthy" by Drs. Donald and Jennifer Lochner, in Tree Farmer Magazine, May/June 2007. Readers can contact Parker at

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