If you spend much time in Utah's outdoors, you know that contact with ticks is almost inevitable.
The flea and tick season is upon Utah. But in Utah, it's ticks more than fleas that are the problem.After a hike, finding one or two ticks crawling on the body is not uncommon. They are abundant in Utah - some years more than others, said Alan Roe, Utah State University Extension insect diagnostician.
Fortunately, Utah ticks are not of the Lyme disease species. Most of them are Rocky Mountain wood ticks, Dermacentor andersoni.
The tick that spreads Lyme disease is the black-legged tick, Ixodes scapularis, also known as the deer tick, said John F. Carroll, entomologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Research livestock insect laboratory in Maryland.
Lyme disease, virtually unknown a decade ago, causes debilitating arthritic, heart and neural problems in humans and dogs, Carroll said.
While the Rocky Mountain tick is not known to spread the Lyme disease bacterium, it does transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Roe said. This disease is characterized by chills, fever, fatigue, pains in muscles and joints and a red to purple eruption at the site of the bite.
Roe said tick specimens do come into the diagnostic lab but not in great numbers. This is most likely because many people recognize ticks. Consequently, the relative abundance of Utah ticks is probably not reflected by diagnostic records. They do, however, give us a clue of what kind of ticks are out there.
Since 1980, 36 tick specimens have been submitted to the USU Diagnostic Laboratory. Of these, 21, or about 60 percent, were the Rocky Mountain wood tick. Brown dog ticks, ear ticks and winter ticks are occasionally submitted, he said.
"We have had only one specimen of the genus that includes the Lyme disease tick, but it was a different species that may or may not transmit this disease," Roe said. "In any case, this specimen was believed to have been brought in from out of state."
While tick specimens were submitted from all over the state, Roe said, most appear to come from the more mountainous counties. Most specimens are submitted from June through August and most were found on people.
Of the 21 Rocky Mountain wood ticks submitted, the majority came from Box Elder, Wasatch, Cache and Utah counties.
As for fleas, Roe said, they are uncommon in Utah. Only seven samples of fleas have been submitted to the diagnostic lab since 1986. Most of these specimens were a species known as the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis. Although cat flea by name, "it seems to be found more commonly on dogs in Utah," he said.
Most flea specimens were submitted to the USU lab from July through October and most came from Northern Utah counties. "Once in a while we get an unusual flea sample from some other situation, such as a bird nest or rodent burrow, but these instances are rare."
People with summer cabins should be alert to the potential of fleas, said Jay Karren, USU Extension entomologist. They often accumulate in these closed areas. If pets are brought to these cabins, the fleas will find them and eventually you, he said.
Fleas are small, wingless insects, about one-sixteenth of an inch long and are generally reddish brown in color. Bite reactions vary from a slight swelling and reddish discoloration to a very severe generalized rash. The most common disease transmitted by fleas in the western United States is the bubonic plague, he said.
How to avoid the bite
Animals are primary hosts for ticks. People who venture into the outdoors become accidental hosts for ticks looking for a blood meal.
To avoid contact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Research Service says people should avoid wooded areas, leaf litter and bushy undergrowth.
The Research Service says campers and hikers should wear light-colored clothes for ease in spotting ticks. They should also wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, tuck pants cuffs into socks and shirts into pants, check often and thoroughly for ticks and change clothes when going indoors.
Tick repellants for skin and clothing are available and should be used according to directions on product labels.