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Ticks in Colorado

By Joe Julian, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension, natural resources and agriculture

Tick season in Colorado starts in March and usually peaks sometime in May. Ticks are very common in Colorado, especially in areas where there is a lot of brush. If hiking in the mountains, check for ticks periodically and pull them away from your clothing or before they attach themselves. Insect repellents such as DEET or permethrin will reduce the number of ticks that will climb onto your clothes. The best way to remove a tick is to take a tweezers and slowly and carefully pull it out.

Common Colorado ticks and their hosts include the Rocky Mountain wood tick, which lives on small rodents, deer and domestic animals. This is the most common species that bites humans. The American dog tick lives on small rodents, dogs and raccoons, and occasionally bites humans. The rabbit tick lives on rabbits and other small rodents and sometimes bites humans. There are 30 species of ticks reported in Colorado.

What diseases do ticks transmit in Colorado?

Colorado tick fever is by far the most common disease transmitted by ticks in Colorado. About 100 cases are reported annually, concentrated in Larimer, Boulder, Jefferson and Gunnison counties. Because the symptoms are often fairly mild and mimic other common diseases, such as influenza, it is assumed that many more cases actually occur but are not diagnosed. April, May and June are peak months for Colorado tick fever. Other tick-borne diseases are rare in Colorado.

Ticks are involved in transmitting tularemia, which is widespread in many populations of wild rabbits. About 10 to 12 human cases are also reported in the state, although most occur among hunters who handle infected rabbits rather than by tick bites.

Relapsing fever occurs infrequently in Colorado, with about 2 or 3 cases reported annually. However, incidence is suspected to be several times higher since it is easily misdiagnosed and is rarely reported.

Despite its name, Rocky Mountain spotted fever is very uncommon in Colorado and the rest of the western United States. Currently over 90% of the cases occur east of the Mississippi. However, the disease was first described from Montana and was limited to the Rocky Mountain region until about 1930. An average of about 3 cases are reported annually from Colorado.

If you find an attached tick and have flulike symptoms and fatigue, contact a physician for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Tick's in the Home

Only one tick can completely develop within a home, the brown dog tick (Rhipicephalus sanguineus). This is a 'one-host' tick that feeds on the blood of dogs. It is fairly common in Colorado, and is usually found on a dog or climbing on walls. It is a subtropical species that maintains itself indoors, unable to survive outdoor winters here. Brown dog tick is most often a problem in kennels. It rarely bites humans and can not develop and reproduce on a diet of human blood. If you find ticks on your dog, treatment of the dog is essential using a flea and tick powder, dip or collar. You also will need to treat places the dog frequents, such as bedding and resting areas.

Using an insecticide, spot-treat cracks along baseboards where ticks may hide. Vacuum ticks and nymphs that crawl up walls and in room corners. It is best to dispose of the vacuum bag once ticks have been collected. Wash all dog bedding. It may take several weeks and multiple treatments of areas in the home to finally eliminate tick infestations.

Photograph courtesy of Virginia Tech.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010