As tick season reaches its peak in the Northwest, a new report from the Centers for Disease Control says diseases spread by tiny creatures like mosquitoes and ticks have tripled in the U.S. over the last 14 years.
Ticks can spread Lyme disease, tularemia and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Washington state Department of Health Entomologist Dr. Liz Dykstra said it’s normal for adult ticks to appear between January and May each year. Juvenile ticks, known as nymphs, come out later in the season.
Washington’s Department of Health has been tracking ticks since 2011. Dykstra said the agency has found lots of western black-legged ticks in areas of scrub oak, like those along the Columbia River Gorge in Klickitat County, as well as open areas within forests in Western Washington. Those are the species that can spread Lyme disease.
In the Spokane area, the Department of Health is seeing more American dog ticks.
“Those are a little bit more aggressive and a little faster than the western black-legged tick if they see a host,” Dykstra said.
She said they’re turning up in grassy areas and along trails in Eastern Washington.
According to the CDC, Lyme disease cases are up in California, the Midwest and the Northeast. In 2016, Oregon saw more cases of Lyme disease than in Washington, but people who contracted Lyme disease may not have been bitten by Northwest ticks.
Still, Dykstra said it makes sense to take precautions.
“I can tell you talking to people who’ve grown up in the area, they’ll tell me ’Oh my gosh, when I was a kid, I didn’t ever encounter ticks, I didn’t realize we had ticks and now I am suddenly coming across ticks when I go out hiking.”
Dykstra said the best way to avoid ticks is to tuck your pants into your socks and to wear long sleeves. She also recommends checking friends and dogs for ticks this time of year.
Mosquitoes are also spreading disease in the Northwest. West Nile Virus has been found in Mosquitoes in the region since 2009.
“I expect at some point we will see as climate change takes effect, that’s going to drive some changes in what we see as far as mosquito distribution and vector-borne pathogen activity,” Dykstra said. “The message is going to be the same,” she said.
That message is to take preventative measures. The CDC recommends using bug repellent that contains DEET.