Ticks thriving in Mid-Columbia

By Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldApril 21, 2014 

Bateman Island Ticks

Arnold Porter of Kennewick and his schnauzer Roxy pose for a photo on Monday the Bateman Island in Kennewick. After talking a walk on the island Sunday Arnold found a number of ticks on himself and about 100 on Roxy.

SARAH GORDON — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

An Easter stroll on Bateman Island turned into an all-night battle for Arnold Porter of Kennewick and his miniature schnauzer, Roxy.

Walking the trails on the Richland island, Porter didn't realize the underbrush was infested with ticks -- not until he discovered one crawling up his arm hours later.

"I've found one once in a while after I'd been out hiking so I didn't think much about it," he said.

Roxy, 1 1/2, gets regular doses of a common tick and flea repellent, so Porter wasn't too worried about her.

But after he got home and found several more creepy crawlies on himself, he checked Roxy.

"I've never seen anything like it. I found 10 or 12 just on one paw," he said.

The Mid-Columbia's spring and the early summer months are a bad time of year for ticks, said Registered Nurse Heather Hill, the Communicable Disease Programs supervisor for the Benton Franklin Health District.

"We get a lot of calls this time of year. A lot of it is people starting to get back out into the environment where ticks live, like Bateman Island and the grassy areas along the rivers," she said.

While it's disconcerting to find ticks on your body, she said, they will wander around for hours and hours before latching onto you.

So if you check yourself and your dogs after being out where ticks live, you do have time to remove them before they bite.

Hill recommends using a fine-tooth comb to run through your hair and your dog's hair too.

After spotting the ticks on Roxy, Porter made a hasty, late-night trip to the store for a bottle of flea and tick shampoo.

"I gave her a bath at midnight and when I rinsed her off, it was awful. There were easily 100 or more dead ticks on the shower floor, both full grown and little ones," he said.

As Porter dried Roxy off he discovered three more ticks hidden in the fur around her eyes.

The ticks were the common brown variety and one was orange with black markings, he said.

The Washington State Department of Health website advises if you find a tick embedded in your skin or in your pet, use a pair of fine-tipped tweezers to remove it gently.

Grasp the tick right at skin level and pull upward with steady, even pressure without twisting or jerking. Then disinfect the area.

The state says if you develop a fever, rash, or flulike symptoms within a month, contact a doctor.

"It's really important to catch the tick before it balloons up with your blood. They're harder to remove once that happens," Hill said.

Most of the people calling the health district about ticks have questions concerning Lyme disease. Hill said ticks found on the west side of the state have been known to carry the disease.

"I won't say it absolutely does not exist in Eastern Washington; it's just less likely," she said.

Porter said it will be a long time before he takes Roxy back to Bateman Island at the north end of Columbia Center Boulevard. And he wanted to warn others.

"I don't want someone else to have to spend the night like I did. I think I only had an hour or so of sleep Sunday night," he said.

State health officials suggest wearing long pants tucked into socks or boots and long-sleeved shirts tucked into your pants to keep ticks on the outside of your clothes. Wearing light-colored clothing also helps you see dark ticks more easily.

They also recommend using tick repellent and then showering or bathing within two hours of being in a tick area.

Also, inspect areas around your head, neck, ears, under arms, between legs and on the back of the knees.

For more information on ticks, avoiding them and their habitat, go to the state Department of Health website, www.doh.wa.gov/CommunityandEnvironment/Pests/Ticks.aspx.

Hill said it's been many years since Washington has done any surveillance on ticks and urges anyone who finds one to follow the directions on the website to send it in.

"We need a better idea what's out there," she said.

-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513; lhulse@tricityherald.com

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