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home : current news : current news December 12, 2018

4/17/2018 1:33:00 PM
Beware of ticks in Sisters forests
By Craig Eisenbeis

Hikers are reporting an inordinate number of ticks on the loose as the spring hiking season begins to take shape. Since ticks can carry a number of diseases, including Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and Lyme Disease, it makes sense to learn how to avoid these obnoxious little critters.

The former disease is more common east of the Rockies but is not unknown in Oregon.

Lyme disease, however, is a malady that can pose a greater danger in our area. Even so, the disease is both preventable and treatable; but a little knowledge and preventive care can go a long way toward minimizing your chances of suffering from this threat.

Gary Guttormsen, trails coordinator for the Sisters Trails Alliance (STA), has been spending quite a bit of time in the woods lately and has some interesting - and ominous - news to report:

"I personally have found over a dozen ticks climbing on either my skin or clothing so far this season. One of the critters had actually latched onto my hip and started feasting!"

Ticks are most often acquired by direct contact with trailside vegetation. They do not jump or fly to a host; they simply grab on as the host brushes by. Any area that has dense growths of bitter brush, manzanita, or ceanothus (snow brush) can be a hotbed of tick activity. With so many areas near Sisters having experienced forest fires in recent years, the explosive growth of brush in those areas has created ideal habitat for tick transfers.

The Sisters Trails Alliance and Forest Service crews work hard to try to keep brush pruned back away from the trails, but they can't get it all. As a result, the little bloodsucking hitchhikers are out there, and the warmer weather has them actively seeking new hosts to continue their lifecycle. If you are traveling the forests away from maintained trails, your chance of acquiring unwanted passengers increases even more.

While the danger of catching the disease is very real, the probability of doing so is not great. The majority of ticks are not infected with the disease. Data on this matter are uncertain, with estimates ranging from as little as a 1 percent infection rate to a much higher rate. Most estimates, however, fall into an infection-rate range of five percent or less. It is usually necessary for the tick to be firmly attached and feeding for a day or two in order to infect a host with the bacteria that causes the disease.

Therefore, the best countermeasures involve prevention. Long sleeves and long trousers help minimize potential contact with ticks. Sleeve and pant leg closures can also help prevent ticks from finding a way underneath clothing. Insect repellent with at least 20 percent DEET has proven effective as a deterrent, and some hikers tuck pant legs into their socks to prevent access.

After each visit to the woods, it is imperative that outdoor adventurers carefully inspect themselves for ticks. If done promptly, any ticks on board will not have time to attach. In fact, ticks rarely attach immediately. Rather they tend to wander around a potential host in search of just the right place to attack. It can often be helpful to employ an extra set of eyes, too.

Like any insect bite, a tick attack can cause itching or irritation; but one tell-tale sign of a probable Lyme infection is the appearance of a bulls-eye ring of inflammation surrounding the tick attachment site. Lyme disease can cause serious and long-lasting heath issues, so, if there is any doubt, it is always best to see a healthcare professional, because antibiotics can stop the disease in its tracks.

Generally, ticks can be found throughout Sisters Country. However, Guttormsen's observations are similar to others in noting that ticks seem to be especially abundant on Black Butte-area trails, especially the lower areas where brush is the most dense. So, precautions are especially worth taking in that area.

If a tick does become attached, Guttormsen specifically recommends a handy little tool.

"For our little Western black-legged ticks, I use the small tick-twister. I got my twisters at Bi-Mart pharmacy. I keep them in my truck's first aid kit, so that they are almost always available!"

Other, older methods of tick removal have fallen under close scrutiny and are no longer believed to be as effective.

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