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Peak Parenting: Ticked off



Ah, Spring! The time of year when brown turns to green, new colors burst forth from the earth, and pests like ticks emerge to torment us.

And unfortunately, according to forecasts from the Companion Animal Parasite Council, which monitors the threat parasites present to pets and family members, Coloradans should expect a higher-than-average risk this year for ticks and mosquitos.

What determines the severity of tick season? In an interview with the TODAY show, Saravanan Thangamani, professor of microbiology and immunology at the SUNY Upstate Medical University and director of the SUNY Center for Environmental Health and Medicine says weather, ecological factors in tick habitats, and human behavior boost the number of ticks looking for an iron-rich meal.

If you’ve ever spotted a tick while traipsing through our local forests, chances are it was a Rocky Mountain wood tick. It’s the most common tick in Colorado, according to Colorado State University Extension in a post titled “Colorado Ticks and Tick-Borne Diseases.” describes these ticks as “brown in color and becoming grayish when engorged.” They have an oval body that is somewhat flat. The Rocky Mountain wood tick is most active in spring, becoming dormant during hot weather in summer. Colorado State University (CSU) says 27 species of ticks are known to occur in Colorado.

Outdoor enthusiasts are especially cautious of ticks because of the disease they can spread, with the most serious and long-lasting being Lyme disease. Fortunately, says CSU, Lyme disease has not been detected in ticks in Colorado, and there are zero confirmed cases of Lyme disease originating from a tick bite in Colorado.

Colorado tick fever is the most common tick-transmitted disease in the region, says CSU, and symptoms are similar to the flu. Those who’ve been infected normally recover within a few days or weeks.

Though rare, Rocky Mountain spotted fever is the most problematic and serious tick-caused disease. CSU warns to watch for symptoms that include fever, headaches, upset stomach, and a rash. Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be treated by doctor prescribed antibiotics, so if you suspect you or a family member is suffering from the disease, seek medical attention immediately. Luckily, CSU reports cases in Colorado are very rare, with only a couple of cases per year.

The first line of defense in keeping ticks off the kiddos is to prevent them from taking over the areas you likely spend the most time in – your own yard. The CDC recommends applying pesticides, but that’s not optimal since your kids will then go out and play amid harmful chemicals. More health-friendly methods shared by the CDC include keeping your yard clean of piles of leaf litter, cutting or clearing tall grasses and brush, stacking wood neatly in a dry area, and spreading a three-foot-wide barrier of wood chips or gravel around areas you particularly want to deter tick migration.

In addition to managing the environment your littles hang out in, certain clothing and repellants will also discourage pests from pestering. The CDC recommends EPA-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone. But, the CDC warns not to use products containing OLE or PMD on children under three. The agency created a search tool at repellents/find-repellent-right-you to help you navigate options.

CSU says that when applying repellents to children, safe practices include: avoiding high concentration formulations; applying repellent to clothing rather than to skin; avoiding repellents on hands or other areas that may come into contact with the mouth; always bathing children with soap to wash off repellent.

Additionally, you can treat clothing and gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin, which will remain protective through several washings.

Long sleeves and lighter-colored clothing, which makes it easier to spot creepy crawlies, can also go a long way in avoiding ticks.

Even with all that, CSU says it’s crucial to conduct tick checks frequently since ticks take several hours to settle and begin feeding. If you spot a tick that has not yet embedded, use a tissue to swipe it off skin and then kill it before disposing of it. If the tick is already embedded, the CDC says to use tweezers and grasp the tick close to the skin, then pull upward, careful not to twist, as that can cause the tick’s mouth to break off in the skin.

Ticks are an inevitable part of life up here in the Peak to Peak, but with the right preparation and vigilance, you and the kiddos can enjoy a fun, safe summer without letting these pests tick you off too much.

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