BicycleSource Newsletter

Wood ticks, common in the United States, are found everywhere in brush and wooded areas in summer. The main danger of ticks, beyond being a revolting parasite which feeds on your blood, is that it is a carrier for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. This infectious disease is found wherever ticks are prevalent (not just in the Rockies), and is often fatal if treated late.

Brown or speckled brown, they are very flat with an extremely hard protective coating, and are 2-3 mm in diameter. Ticks will grow to be over a centimeter across after feeding on your blood and tissue fluids for a day or so. (Makes you want to live your life in a lycra body suit!)


Ticks cling to clothing and to the fur of animals, to later make their way to the skin and burrow in by a painless bite. The most common sites are hairy places, such as the underarms, pubic region, and especially the scalp.

Anyone who spends time outside in the country should should have their clothes and body inspected after each excursion into the woods or brush. Since the tick does not transmit the disease until several hours after attaching to skin, checking for ticks at least every few hours and early removal can often prevent serious danger. It should be noted that, as with mosquitoes and malaria, not all ticks are carriers of disease.

And, tick country or no, insect repellant makes the life of any mountain biker a whole lot nicer.


Never touch a tick with bare hands, and never crush a tick on the skin, which only contaminates the skin with the body fluids of the tick.

Removal is best accomplished by putting a drop of a light oil such as gasoline, kerosine, or turpentine on the body of the tick. If these substances are unavailable, grease or oil of any kind can be used to drown the tick.

After application, gently pull off the tick with tweezers. Attempting to remove the tick too franticly may leave the head or mouth imbedded in the skin, which will then mean a trip to the doctor's office. Afterwards, wash the area with soap and water, disinfecting if possible.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

The rickettsiae incubates for two to five days after the bite. Flu-like symptoms gradually appear, with low fever, malaise, and appetite loss. After two or three days, the fever becomes high with severe headache appears. Around the third day a mottled pink rash spreads over the entire body. Tiny hemmorhagic spots appear inside the spots and eventually change from red to purple.

Early and energetic treatment is vital to improve the otherwise fatal prognosis. Even late treatment is characterised by high mortality. The disease is successfully treated by broad-spectrum antibiotics such as tetracycline. Also, vaccines of killed rickettsiae are available, used by lab techs and those spending time in tick-infested areas.

Tick-Borne Encephalitis

Those in Central Europe face a dangerous but similarly preventable viral infection called tick-borne encephalitis (TBE). The severe and untreatable illness results in paralysis, permanent neurological damage, or death is about 10% of cases.

TBE is spread by ixodes ticks, one of the varieties which transmit Lyme disease. The affected areas include Austria, southern Finland, eastern Sweden, southern, eastern Germany (including Bavaria and the Black Forest), Switzerland, most of Eastern Europe, and a broad belt extending across Asia. The risk runs from March through December, but peaks in the summer.

There is a vaccine against TBE, which comes in two or three doses starting at least three weeks before exposure, but it is not yet licensed in the United States. Dr. Richard Dagwood points out, "An alternative might be an injection of TBE immunoglobulin (antibody) either upon arrival or promptly after a tick bite."
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