Is Utah seeing an uptick in ticks within wildlife and landscape?

Jun 2, 2021, 8:39 PM
390650 07: A Close Up Of An Adult Female Deer Tick, Dog Tick, And A Lone Star Tick Are Shown June 15, 2001 On The Palm Of A Hand. Ticks Cause An Acute Inflammatory Disease Characterized By Skin Changes, Joint Inflammation, And Flu-Like Symptoms Called Lyme Disease. (Photo By Getty Images)
(Photo By Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — From Antelope Island to the Wasatch Range, Utah has seen an increase in the number of ticks. State Park officials say they’re hearing, more often, that a visitor found a tick during or after their trip to Antelope Island. 

Is there an uptick in ticks?

Wendy Wilson, Assistant Park Manager at Antelope Island State Park, said the number of reports they are receiving isn’t the issue — it’s the number of ticks per report that causes them concern. “Just like the gnats that are out here and folks get used to that this time of year … when we know the gnats will be out, we should expect ticks as well,” Wilson said. 

Spring conditions like higher temperatures and humidity are ideal for ticks.  And Dr. Scott Bernhardt, an assistant professor in Utah State University’s biology department, said Utah’s drier conditions are beneficial to ticks as well.

That means that when humans go out to enjoy the summer sun, so do the ticks.

The question is, are there more ticks this year than usual?

“I wouldn’t say there’s an increase in [tick] activity, but there is an increase in people finding or coming across ticks,” Bernhardt said. This trend can be spotted all over Utah. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are a handful of diseases tied to ticks. And they can be harmful to humans, pets, and Utah wildlife.

The good news, said Bernhardt, is that most of the ticks studied in Utah haven’t carried Lyme disease, which is the most troublesome disease carried by ticks. 

Encountering ticks in Utah

A dry winter coupled with an early drought leaves perfect conditions for ticks to thrive. According to USU-Extension, the American Dog and Rocky Mountain Wood ticks are the most common species that Utahns encounter. 

The tiny arachnids grow to be only a few millimeters long and are much smaller when young. Their small size makes them hard to detect as they feed on the blood of larger animals.

What to do if you find a tick on yourself

 “You can remove the tick yourself at home,” according to Dr. Troy Madsen, an emergency physician with University of Utah Health,

“The best thing you can do is use a pair of tweezers and grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Pull back and remove the tick,” Madsen said. 

Make sure you remove the entire tick in one piece, being careful not to leave the head in your skin. Once a tick has been removed, it’s important to consider the possibility that it may have transmitted a virus or bacteria.

According to the CDC, nearly all diseases transmitted by ticks can be treated with antibiotics or other medications, and symptoms of most diseases carried by tricks will clear up within a few weeks.

The exceptions are Lyme disease and the Powassan virus, which can both cause long-term symptoms.

Spending time outdoors makes contact with ticks likely, but if you take steps to protect yourself, you don’t have to let them ruin your summer.

How to protect yourself from ticks

University of Utah Health has offered these tips

And here are steps recommended by the CDC to protect yourself as you go into brush or wooded areas:

  • Wear insect repellent with DEET [or diethyltoluamide]
  • Treat clothing with permethrin, an insecticide
  • Avoid brushing by vegetation and stay in the middle of trails when hiking
  • Wear long sleeves and long pants tucked into your socks
  • Shower or bathe after being outdoors to wash off any ticks before they attach
  • Wash clothes on a hot setting once returning inside
  • Perform a “tick check” to inspect your body, your children, and pets for ticks

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Is Utah seeing an uptick in ticks within wildlife and landscape?