Wet spring in the Rocky Mountains means more bugs, like ticks
Between rainstorms, people and their dogs will venture outside. There they will find more insects such as ticks and mosquitoes, thanks to a big winter and wet spring.
“The high moisture levels allow for the proliferation of ticks in early spring, and then mosquitos in late spring or early summer,” said Carlyn Porter, emergency preparedness and epidemiology program administrator with the Pitkin County Health Department.
“We haven’t gotten many insect complaints yet but would like to hear from the public about any hot spots where ticks or mosquitos are active,” she said. “This helps us focus our outreach and education.” (pitkincounty.com/1168/About-Pitkin-County-Public-Hea)
Ticks are more likely this year in grassy and wooded areas this spring. Porter recommended applying an EPA-registered insect repellent, such as oil of lemon eucalyptus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have a tick bite assessment tool to assist in removing ticks, symptoms to watch for, and future prevention.
“We recommend using insect repellent and doing a tick check after hiking, especially in the spring. Also be sure to check your dogs for ticks, which is quite common. We see Rocky Mountain wood ticks and American dog ticks frequently in our area,” said she.
These ticks are not known to carry Lyme disease, but they can carry other diseases resulting in illnesses such as Colorado tick fever.
“Showering within two hours of being outdoors has been shown to reduce risk of disease by potentially dislodging any ticks that may be tagging along. Once they have bitten, use tweezers to carefully remove the tick as soon as possible. Follow CDC guidance on how to safely dislodge a biting tick,” she added.
How risky is Lyme disease?
“We luckily have not seen the tick that carries Lyme here, but that could change with a warmer climate. If you find a tick on your body or dog, you can submit it to CDPHE for identification,” said Porter.
This helps Pitkin County Health track the spread of various species across the state. There are also private labs that can test for specific viruses to assess disease exposure risk.
“We do have other tick-borne diseases to worry about, like Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tick-borne relapsing fever, tularemia, and Colorado tick fever,” she said.
Altitude limits our exposure to biting insects that other nearby places, like Delta County, deal more with.
“We don’t see many of the mosquitos that carry West Nile virus, but it’s something we monitor as a reportable disease. Often, we have folks travel to the East Coast and come back with Lyme disease or West Nile virus, so we do occasionally have these reported in Pitkin County. These are not spread person to person, but are vector-borne disease,” said Porter.
Dr. Doug Bahr, veterinarian with Willits Veterinary Hospital, is predicting this with be a bad tick year and said they already are noticing the impact.
“Moisture plays a big role for tick populations. When plant life is better there is more cover for them. Areas known to have ticks will have higher concentrations this year, and new areas where they haven’t been common might now have pockets,” said Dr. Bahr.
The veterinarian pointed out that Colorado really isn’t susceptible to the dangerous Lyme disease from ticks, saying it’s more of an East Coast and Midwestern threat.
Ticks need to be attached to pets for more than 12 hours in order to transmit diseases. The best course of action for your dog is flea and tick prevention.
“It’s so much better than it has been in the past, and you can give it to your dog orally or on the skin. What it does is kill off ticks once they latch and stops ticks from actively feeding. The preventative medicines reduce disease transmission and also make it easier to pluck ticks off skin,” Dr. Bahr said.
As for those doodles and long-haired dogs, he recommended shaving their hair down in summer to more easily screen for ticks, as well as frequent brushing of longer coats with a flea or tick brush.
Two bats tested by Pitkin County Public Health have tested positive for rabies this year. It may seem like a small number, but compared to years past, it’s a significant jump — and one rabid bat in contact with people is one too many.