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For more information about effective tick and mosquito repellents, visit the Environment Protection Agency’s repellent guide at http://bit.ly/1NepTCw

Expect more ticks and mosquitoes this spring and summer, say health authorities, which in turn could mean more bites and potentially more cases of Lyme disease and West Nile virus.

This heads-up might make some would-be campers shudder as they consider their weekend plans in any of Central Oregon’s forests. After all, ticks, much more than their airborne blood-sucking compatriots, mosquitoes, are notorious for their creep-out factor, which includes crawling up one’s legs and embedding their incisors into our sunlight-shy armpits, scalps and nether regions and gorging themselves on blood until they swell to the size of a small grape.

And once they’ve latched on, you’ve probably contracted Lyme disease, right?

Not exactly, says epidemiologist Emilio DeBess, the Oregon Health Authority’s state public health veterinarian, who specializes in communicable diseases.

While outdoor pest populations will be up this spring and summer, DeBess urges you not to cancel your camping plans.

Tick and mosquito bites are completely preventable, he said.

While there isn’t a tick or mosquito forecast available in Central Oregon, local authorities said this past winter’s historic snowfall has translated into relatively moist spring and summer conditions conducive to tick and mosquito life cycles.

Ticks

Some basics: Ticks do not jump from trees onto potential hosts, nor do they fly. They’re typically found on tall grasses and plants, which you should avoid brushing against by staying on a trail. However, if you find that a tick has attached to you, don’t freak out.

“Just because you find a tick, doesn’t mean anything is going to happen,” DeBess said. “Just make sure that it is removed.”

Even if the tick is carrying Lyme disease, it takes 24 to 48 hours for it to introduce the bacterium — Borrelia burgdoferi — responsible for the disease, into your blood stream. That’s plenty of time to check one’s body each night for ticks. If you’re on a multiple-day camping trip, check yourself in the morning and shake out bedding and previously worn clothing, just to be sure. Long-sleeve, light-colored clothing is recommended, as is tucking pants legs into your socks — which will keep ticks from making immediate contact with your skin — if it doesn’t make you feel like too much of a dork.

In the spring and summer months, most infections are transmitted in ticks in the early nymph stage, when they are less than 2 millimeters and hard to spot. Adult ticks are active in the cooler months of late summer and autumn. While they can carry the Lyme disease bacterium as well, their larger size makes them easier to glimpse and remove, according to OHA.

Worst case scenario: you wake up and you find a tick attached to your body, or that of a friend. With tweezers, firmly grasp the tick as close to where it’s attached to the skin. Sometimes the tick has burrowed so far into the skin that its head is immersed as well. It’s important to use tweezers to pull the tick out gradually, without twisting, and to make sure to break the skin to remove any parts of its mouth pieces and head, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Clean the bite with soap and water, rubbing alcohol or an iodine scrub. Keep the removed tick in a plastic bag or a small container. If you develop a bull’s-eye-like rash in the coming days or week — , which indicates a contraction of Lyme disease — see a doctor. Antibiotics can provide effective treatment. However, identifying Lyme disease early on is crucial.

And while contracting Lyme disease is possible in Oregon, it’s not very likely. In Central Oregon, the high and relatively dry climate is not conducive to large tick populations, DeBess said. Those that exist here are the larger, more-easily spotted western black legged tick. In southwest Oregon, however, the smaller black legged tick, commonly known as the deer tick, is responsible for Oregon’s highest concentration of Lyme disease cases.

From 2010 to 2015, 40 to 50 human cases of Lyme disease were reported in Oregon each year, according to the OHA. The onset of Lyme disease is most common in June and July.

But let’s keep things in perspective.

In 2015, 95 percent of confirmed Lyme disease cases were reported from only 14 states concentrated in the Northeast and the Upper Midwest, according to the CDC. In Oregon, the percentage of ticks with Lyme disease is 2 to 4 percent, which is among the lowest in the country, according to the 2016 OHA report “Lyme Disease in Oregon.” Contrast Oregon’s percentage of ticks with Lyme disease to that in Westchester County, New York, where 52 percent of adult ticks and 26 percent of nymphs were reported infected, and things here appear less than dire.

Still, health authorities urge those in grassy and wooded areas to use a tick repellent. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends using repellents that feature the active ingredient DEET, which repels ticks for about two to 10 hours, and mosquitoes from two to 12 hours, depending on the DEET concentration. Products with the active ingredient are safe for children and pregnant women to use, according to the EPA. Repellents featuring picaridin, an odorless chemical, are also options. Solutions featuring oil of lemon eucalyptus are nontoxic alternatives to combating ticks (and mosquitoes), yet typically do not last as long as their synthetic counterparts.

Mosquitoes: stoked on the snowpack

These flying nuisances are usually dependent on a couple things: water and temperature, DeBess said. When temperatures are warm, mosquitoes are able to hatch around 50 degrees, and the females tend to be more active, which means getting a blood meal, whether it’s from a human, mouse, deer or other living creature.

Statewide, the OHA is expecting a higher than usual mosquito activity because of the amount of snowmelt.

“You’ll have more areas in which female mosquitoes can lay eggs, hatch, and create a greater mosquito population,” DeBess said.

In Oregon, vector control districts collect mosquitoes, identify them, and send them onto universities for testing for things like the West Nile virus, DeBess said. However, the agency will not be able to determine whether Oregon has a higher rate of West Nile virus until later in the summer.

From what DeBess has heard from vector districts, they are expecting higher mosquito activity.

Chad Stubblefield, a manager at Four Rivers Vector Control District, which provides mosquito control to parts of southern Deschutes County, said the area experienced a lot of “snow pool mosquitoes,” along the Little and Big Deschutes Rivers, which hatch in puddles of snowmelt. Previous mild winters have yielded relatively tame mosquito populations in the subsequent springs. The river water is now receding, and the mosquito population is thinning by the day, Stubblefield said. As for summer, he can’t predict what will happen, although a yearly river water surge in July means another bumper crop of mosquitoes.

“Mosquito population just really depends on how the summer goes. If we look at 100 degrees for two months, I could confidently say we will have way worse mosquitoes than if we just have average temperatures,” said Stubblefield, who urges homeowners to patrol yards and spaces for stagnant water. “I don’t want people to not be vigilant, but I don’t want them to be scared as well. I think we’ll be OK, but it may be another story in a few weeks.”

— Reporter: 541-617-7816, pmadsen@bendbulletin.com

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