East Valley families heading to the high country this summer should take some extra precautions to avoid Rocky Mountain wood ticks.
Four cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever have been reported in the past two years, two of them recently confirmed, all of them in children and one of them fatal.
The numbers, though small, are unusual for Arizona. Typically, the state averages about one case every three years.
Kids are the most likely victims because they’re the ones climbing around tick habitats: In brushy, grassy areas, logs, tree trunks and fallen branches.
State health officials are urging people to keep away from areas where ticks live and to check themselves and their children after being out in the woods.
"Anytime you have a tick attached, people should pull them off promptly and properly, wash the tick site and save the tick," said Craig Levy, manager of the Arizona Department of Health Services’ vector-borne/zoonotic disease section.
Levy’s laboratory can identify the tick, which could help doctors if a family member becomes ill.
"Not all ticks are created equal," he said. "Knowing the species can tell you what kind of diseases it might be carrying."
The four children who contracted Rocky Mountain spotted fever all lived in the White Mountains region, which includes the Mogollon Rim and other popular vacation destinations for desert dwellers looking to cool off.
Carol Riedel-Lopinski and her family go camping in the White Mountains and on the Rim as often as they can, typically seeking remote locations to hunt and fish. The boys, ages 11 and 14, roam the woods, so tick checks are part of the family rituals.
"We haven’t found any ticks," said Riedel-Lopinski, family support director of the East Valley Child Crisis Center in Mesa. "But we talk about it. And we tell them, ‘If you see anything, let us know.’ "
The dog also gets regular tick checks during and after the trip.
Levy said the Department of Health Services is interested only in ticks that attach to people. Those attached to dogs are called brown dog ticks — and they’re everywhere, he said.
"We’re not interested in getting everybody’s dog ticks," he said. "We
would be absolutely buried, and we don’t have time to deal with that." Tick tips
• Wear light-colored clothing so you can see ticks crawling on you.
• Tuck pant legs into socks.
• Use bug repellent on skin and clothing.
• Check yourself and your children after playing in wooded areas, especially the hair. Ticks can attach to clothing and pets.
• Remove ticks promptly. Use tweezers to grasp ticks by mouth parts as close to skin as possible and pull back gently. Or use fingernails covered with a tissue.
• Immediately wash the bite area with soap and water.
• Save the tick for identification to determine if it can transmit disease. If possible, preserve it in 70 percent alcohol and send it to Arizona Department of Health Services, Vector-Borne Disease Program, 150 N. 18th Ave., Suite 140, Phoenix, AZ 85007.
• For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Arizona Department of Health Services