Will this be a worse year for ticks in the Crook County area?
That is not an easy question to answer at this point, according to the county's communicable disease and prevention coordinator Karen Yeargain.
"With it being wetter, is it going to be worse? It depends on where you are," she said. "Some people in the area never see a tick and others are in grassier, brushy areas where they do."
But Yeargain isn't necessarily caught up in how bad of a year it will be.
"We consider every year to be a year to be careful about ticks," she said.
Ticks are small arachnids that feed on the blood of mammals as well as birds, reptiles and amphibians. Because they ingest blood, they carry at least 12 diseases that affect humans and other animals.
Locally, the most common ticks encountered are the wood tick or the dog tick, Yeargain said.
"We see them in the low-lying grasses around meadows and we see them in shrubs and bushes," she added.
Yeargain consequently urges people to take the proper precautions if they expect to be in that type of environment. These include wearing tick repellent and wearing long-sleeve shirts, high socks and long pants.
"This will decrease the likelihood of ticks crawling inside your clothing," she said.
Upon returning from an area where ticks might be present, Yeargain recommends that people disrobe if possible in a mud room area or somewhere where they can shake out their clothing. People should also check their body for ticks, which she said are about the size of a pencil eraser and easy to spot with the naked eye.
To remove the tick, Yeargain suggest gently scratching it backward from the head. Even if it has burrowed into the skin, this method should cause the tick to let go. What people should avoid, she continued, is squeezing the abdomen of the tick, especially if it is engorged from feeding on blood.
"You will be squeezing digestive enzymes from the tick into your skin and that's how disease is transmitted," she said.
Fortunately, not many cases of tick-borne diseases have emerged in the past. Yeargain noted that in her 11 years with the county health department, she has only encountered three cases of exposure. These either resulted in a relapsing fever or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, both of which she characterized as low-level fevers. Lime cases are even less frequent.
"In Central Oregon over the past couple of decades, there have been a couple cases of limes that could not be traced to exposure outside the area," she said.
But since disease is a possibility, Yeargain suggests people who remove a tick to keep it around in case it causes an illness and needs to be tested.
"Make sure you get the head. If it is still alive, put it in a little container in the fridge with a cotton ball with a little bit of water on it, and hold onto it for 30 days," she said. "If within that 30 days you come down with unexplained fever or chills, a rash, or joint pain, take that tick to your doctor."