What is a tick?
Ticks are small blood-feeding parasites and some species can transmit diseases to people. Some species of ticks perch on the edge of low-lying vegetation and grab onto animals and people as they brush past. Other ticks are associated with rodents and their nests, and at night they venture out to feed. Once aboard, ticks crawl to find a good spot to feed, then burrow their mouthparts into the skin for a blood meal. Their bodies slowly enlarge to accommodate the amount of blood ingested. Ticks feed anywhere from several minutes to several days depending on their species, life stage, and type of host.
Learn about the four tick species commonly found in Washington that are known to bite and transmit diseases to people.
What tick-borne diseases occur in Washington?
In the Pacific Northwest, relatively few tick-borne disease cases are reported each year in comparison to other regions of the United States. In Washington, the tick-borne diseases known to be acquired include: babesiosis, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tick-borne relapsing fever, tick paralysis, and tularemia. Learn about these tick-borne diseases and others of concern, and what symptoms of illness to watch for.
Many other tick-borne diseases can be acquired through travel outside the state and country. See CDC's Diseases Transmitted by Tick in and outside the United States.
How can I avoid tick-borne disease?
Your best defense against tick-borne infections is to reduce exposure to ticks.
- Know where to expect ticks. Many ticks live in grassy, brushy, or wooded areas. When possible, avoid wooded and brushy areas with tall grass and leaf litter. Walk in the center of trails, particularly in spring and summer when ticks feed.
- Wear appropriate clothing. When in tick habitats, wear light-colored, tightly woven long pants and long-sleeve shirt. Tuck your pant legs into socks or boots, and your shirt into your pants. This helps keep ticks on the outside of your clothing where you can spot them more easily.
- Use tick repellent when necessary, and carefully follow instructions on the label. Apply an EPA-registered repellent effective against ticks, such as those containing DEET, to clothes and exposed skin, and permethrin to clothes and gear. Take care when applying repellent on children. EPA's search tool can help you find the repellent that best suits your needs.
- Check clothing, gear, and pets after being in potential tick habitats. Ticks can hitch a ride into your home on clothing and pets, then attach to you or a family member later. Carefully examine coats, camping gear, and daypacks. Don't forget your dog; see CDC's where to check your pet for ticks.
- Shower soon after being outdoors. Showering within two hours of being in tick habitat can reduce your risk of getting Lyme disease and may be effective in reducing the risk of other tick-borne diseases. Showering can wash off unattached ticks and it is a good opportunity to do a tick check.
- Check your body and your child's thoroughly for ticks. Carefully inspect areas in and around the hair, head, neck, ears, under arms, inside the belly button, around the waist, between the legs, and behind the knees. Ticks can be very small before they feed—look for what may appear like a new freckle or speck of dirt. Continue checking for two to three days after returning from areas with ticks.
More information on ways you can prevent tick bites can be found at CDC's Avoiding Ticks.
How do I safely remove an attached tick from my body?
Avoid folklore remedies to remove a tick. Hot matches or coating the tick's body with petroleum jelly, soap, or nail polish do little to encourage a tick to detach from skin. In fact, they may make matters worse by irritating the tick and causing it to release additional saliva, increasing the chance of transmitting disease. Your goal is to remove the tick as soon as possible. Do not wait for it to detach. Follow these steps on how to safely remove a tick.
- Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Avoid removing the tick with bare hands. Don't twist or jerk the tick; this may cause the mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouthparts with clean tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
- After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
- If you develop a rash, fever, or flu-like illness within several weeks of removing the tick, see your healthcare provider. Tell the healthcare provider about your recent tick bite, when the bite occurred and where you most likely acquired the tick. If possible, save the tick for identification.
Neither the Washington State Public Health Laboratories nor CDC routinely tests ticks for disease. At the state Department of Health, we can identify tick species. Because different tick species transmit different diseases, knowing the tick species may help a health care provider diagnose an illness that could be associated with a tick bite.
- You can submit ticks found on yourself or pet for identification. Safely remove the tick and place it in a crush-proof container. Fill out the Tick Identification Submission Form (PDF) and follow instructions on how to handle and ship the tick. You will be emailed information on what tick species it is and what diseases that species can carry.
- Health care providers and local health departments investigating possible human tick-borne disease cases should submit a tick for identification using the state Public Health Laboratories Microbiology Test Menu.
Where can I send a tick for testing?
We don't recommend testing ticks for evidence of infection in people or pets because:
- Laboratories that conduct tick testing are not required to have the same standards of quality control used by clinical diagnostic laboratories. Test results should not be used for treatment decisions.
- Even if a tick tests positive, it may not have been attached to the body long enough to transmit infection.
- Even if a tick tests negative, the patient may have been bitten unknowingly by a different infected tick.
- Results of tick tests typically are not available before the symptoms appear.
If you are interested in having your tick tested for other reasons, see the Laboratory of Medical Zoology, University of Massachusetts. For a service fee, the laboratory will test for presence of pathogens common to tick species and get test results to you within two weeks. The laboratory is a non-profit organization.
How can I get rid of ticks around my home?
You can make your yard less attractive to ticks. Focus your management of tick habitat to areas frequently used by your family, not necessarily your entire property.
- Remove leaf litter, brush, wood-piles, and trash near your home and yard to reduce the likelihood that deer, rodents, and ticks will live there. Clear tall grasses and brush from around your home.
- Use brick, paving, decking, gravel, container plantings, and low water requirement plants to encourage bright sunny areas immediately around your home—open sunny areas are less likely to harbor ticks.
- Keep grass mowed and shrubs trimmed, and restrict the use of groundcover in family or pet areas.
- Keep dogs and cats out of wooded and tall grassy areas to prevent pets from bringing ticks home. Tick control products are available for pets. Follow label instructions and talk to your veterinarian if you have questions.
- Widen woodland trails.
- Move swing sets, sand boxes, and other children's play areas away from the edge of woods and place them on a wood chip or mulch foundation.
- Use plantings that don't attract deer or exclude deer through fencing.
- Practice rodent control to discourage rodent activity in and around your home.
What about “soft” ticks? Can they spread disease?
Soft ticks behave differently than most ticks. They are found in mountainous regions living within rodent burrows and nests of mice, squirrels, and chipmunks. The ticks prefer dark, cool places, such as rodent nests in shaded wood piles outside buildings, and between walls or beneath floorboards inside buildings. People most often encounter these ticks when sleeping in rodent-infested cabins. Soft ticks emerge at night and feed briefly, like bed bugs. Because the bites are quick and painless, most people do not know that they have been bitten. Infected soft ticks can transmit tick-borne relapsing fever.
When staying in summer cabins or vacation homes, especially in Eastern Washington, make sure rodents, and their ticks, aren't spending the night with you. Practice rodent control by not attracting rodents, sealing them out of your living areas, trapping rodents, and properly cleaning up rodent-contaminated areas.
How can I protect against tick bites while hunting?
Hunters and their dogs are especially vulnerable to tick-borne diseases because of time spent in tick-infected areas. Learn how to prevent tick bites during hunting season, see CDC's precautions for hunters.
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Content Source: Zoonotic Disease Program