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More cases than usual seen of Colorado tick fever in Montana


Last updated 6/12/2020 at 11:25am

An apparent increase in ticks has led to an increase in a tick-spread disease in Montana.

Montana has seen a rise in confirmed cases of Colorado tick fever virus with at least nine cases this year compared to most years, which usually only see one or even none.

Dr. Kevin Harada at Northern Montana Health Care said this uptick in cases appears to be the result of a particularly intense tick season.

“I can’t really explain why there would be an uptick in Colorado tick fever other than the ticks themselves being more prevalent,” Harada said.

He said the fact that more people are getting outdoors this year, at least in tick-heavy environments, could also be a cause, or contributing factor.

“It’s a good year for the ticks or it’s a good year for people getting outside in tall grass areas and stuff like that,” he said. “There’s just more exposure.”

Harada said that like most tick born illnesses, Colorado tick fever present with fairly non-specific symptoms like fever, chills, headache and fatigue, and as a result, a lot of times it goes unrecognized.

Although, he said, some cases of Colorado tick fever can present with a biphasic fever, which appears to start going away but quickly returns.

Harada said the illness is not contagious between humans and the vast majority of people will have low-severity cases.

“Like most viruses most people get very minor cases, they feel ill for a few days and then get better,” he said.

He said the virus can, at its worst, lead to things like meningitis and end up being fatal, but he said, cases like this are extremely rare, even more so than severe non-fatal infections, which are also very rare.

A complicating factor Harada talked about was how much Colorado tick fever’s symptoms crossover with COVID-19, which can make the two difficult to tell apart.

“It’s a difficult thing in the days of COVID anyone who has fevers, chills, headaches and body aches, it’s very hard to distinguish between them,” he said.

Harada said treatment of the Colorado tick fever is purely symptomatic, and there’s no way to cure it than just waiting for it to get better.

He said there are no extra precautions people can take outside of the normal things people do to prevent tick exposure.

“It’s prevention, prevention, prevention,” he said.

Harada recommends wearing long sleeves and pants when going outside especially in areas with tall grass, using products like DEET and checking yourself thoroughly for ticks when coming back into the house.

The CDC also recommends being careful about contact with pets after taking them to similar areas, as they can also be carrying ticks. They also recommend showering after being outside.

CDC recommends that people who find a tick use fine-tipped tweezers, grab the tick as close to the surface of the skin as possible and pulling upward with steadily.

People should not twist or jerk the tick because this can cause mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin, which can still transmit tick-borne illnesses.

After removing the tick, people should clean the bite area and their hands with soap and water or alcohol and disposing of the live tick by flushing it down the toilet, making sure to never try to crush it in thier hand.


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