Ticks are small blood-feeding parasites that can transmit diseases to people. Some types 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 may only come out at night to feed.
Once aboard, ticks crawl until they 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.
Avoiding Tick Bites
When working, camping, or walking in a tick habitat – wooded, brushy, or grassy places – a few simple precautions can reduce your chance of being bitten.
- Wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Tuck your pant legs into socks or boots and shirt into pants. This can help keep ticks on the outside of your clothing where they can be more easily spotted and removed.
- Wear light-colored, tightly woven clothing which will allow the dark tick to be seen more easily. The tight weave makes it harder for the tick to attach itself.
- Use tick repellent when necessary, and carefully follow instructions on the label. Take care when using repellents on children. To find the best repellent for you, use the EPA’s repellent search form.
- Check yourself, your children, and pets thoroughly for ticks. Carefully inspect areas around the head, neck, ears, under arms, between legs, and back of knees. Look for what may appear like a new freckle or speck of dirt.
- Shower or bathe (preferably within two hours after being in tick habitat) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.
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.
Removing a Tick
- Promptly remove the tick using fine-tipped tweezers. Grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible and 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 tweezers.
- After removing the tick, disinfect the bite site and wash your hands.
- Note the date that you found the tick attached to you, just in case you become ill. If a fever, rash, or flu-like illness occurs within a month, let your doctor know that you were bitten by a tick. This information may assist your doctor in diagnosing your illness.
Diseases Spread by Ticks
Washington has relatively few tick-borne disease cases reported each year in comparison to some areas of the United States. If you think you have symptoms of a tick-borne disease, contact your doctor. Doctors are asked to notify local health departments of suspected or confirmed cases of tick-borne disease. The following diseases can be transmitted by a tick bite in Washington.
Tick-borne Relapsing Fever
Symptoms include relapsing (recurrent) periods of fever lasting for two to seven days, disappearing for about four to fourteen days, and then reoccurring. One to 12 cases of tick-borne relapsing fever are reported each year in Washington. Most people become infected while staying in rural, mountainous cabins of eastern Washington during the summer months. The soft tick, Ornithodorus hermsi, typically feeds on rodents, which is where they pick up the Borrelia hermsii bacteria. The infected tick can then transmit the bacteria by feeding on a person for short periods of time while they are sleeping. Since these ticks are associated with rodent burrows and nests, it’s important to keep rodents out of cabins and other sleeping areas. Learn more about tick-borne relapsing fever.
The first sign of Lyme disease is usually an expanding circular rash which starts at the site of the tick bite. The rash may have a target shape or “bull’s-eye” appearance. Fever, headache, muscle aches, and joint pain may also occur. If left untreated, later symptoms can include recurring joint pain, heart disease, and nervous system disorders. Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease in the United States, but is rare in Washington. Only zero to three Lyme disease cases per year are reported to be infected in Washington. Lyme disease is caused by the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, which can be transmitted through the bite of a western black-legged tick, Ixodes pacificus. Western black-legged ticks pick up the bacteria after feeding on infected rodents. These ticks live in forested or brushy areas of western Washington, NOTE: There have been no confirmed cases of Lyme disease transmission in Grant County. Learn more about Lyme disease.
Other Tick borne disease include:
- Lyme Disease
- Relapsing Fever
- Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
- Tick Paralysis
Help Washington State Department of Health Identify your tick!
Different ticks live in different parts of the state and transmit different diseases. Help us identify the species of ticks and determine the risk for tick-borne disease in your region. Any tick you find on yourself or pets, safely remove and place it in a container with a few blades of grass. Fill out the Tick Identification Submission Form (PDF) and follow the shipping instructions. You will be notified of what tick species it is.
Map of Washington counties where positive ticks have been collected and distribution of tick genera by county (2010-16)