Tis the season for hantavirus, tick fevers

Forget the manufactured scare about tapeworms, it’s time to be alert for real disease dangers if you are outdoors-

I got my first tick the other day while hiking the foothills in the Deep Creeks SW of Pocatello. Despite numerous forays this year, I haven’t seen many ticks — luck? Nevertheless, this is the time of year when ticks are most active, and the number of cases of Lyme Disease from the small deer tick is a silent epidemic in its expanding range. Fortunately, there are few infected deer ticks so far in the interior West. In Idaho the much larger Rocky Mountain wood tick is much more common. Every year they transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and Colorado tick fever.

This is also the time when hantavirus cases peak as people clean out their cabins, second homes, and outbuildings where deer mice have spent the winter. The mortality rate of this disease is high.

Risk of Lyme, other tick-borne disease peaks in spring. Daily Herald.

Nationwide now, mosquitoes carry West Nile Virus, and, of course, they are often most fierce in late June, depending on the elevation. The percentage of mosquitoes that are infected rises throughout the summer, however. So a bite is more cause to worry in August than in June. I wear long shirts and netting a lot more than I used to.





  1. Dewey Avatar

    It was amusing two weeks ago at the Wyoming ( anti) Wolf Rally in Cody WY that the topic of the Killer Tapeworm spread by wolves came up yet again. Yes, it is as Ralph states a manufactured scare tactic…a grasp at the latest straw to bring down wolves by any means necessary . It’s also comedic.

    Wyoming’s anti-Wolf pro-Sagebrush Rebellion US Senator John Barrasso was goaded by the Sweetwater County Weed and Pest Manager down in the mighty metropolis of Farson WY between South Pass and Nowhere, WY to write a letter to US Fish and Wildlife about the Echinococcus g. tapeworm. Fr those of you who don;t already know, Senator Barrasso is an orthopedic surgeon in civilian life, one of only two M.D.’s in the Senate, so he should understand public health and medicine better than most of that exclusive club. His votes on health reform say otherwise, but tha s another topic for anoter day.

    US Fish and Wildlife wrote a 2-page response to Barrasso basically setting aside any fears of public health issues resulting from wolves carrying the 1/4 inch Tapeworms of Doom. Citing the Center for Disease Control. USFWS told Barrasso this is not a concern. Unless, of course, folks are choosing to eat food immediately after handling wolf feces. Common sense hygiene nullifies the health risk, but for some reason the anti-Wolfers and outfitters never got the Memo.

    That letter to Barrasso can be found here: http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/wolf/health-safety/Echinococcus-granulosus-Letter.pdf

    Having said all that , Why do I think this isn’t the last we will hear of this Killer Tapeworm from the Cry Wolf crowd ?

  2. jdubya Avatar

    Don’t forget Relapsing Fever….


  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Diseases have always been manipulated for political purposes.

    One of the best seminars I ever participated in was on the politics and sociology of disease.

    We see brucellosis being hyped for political purposes.

    One of the big issues surrounding Lyme Disease is controversy over whether the chronic form even exists. Accepting that it does has negative implications for health insurance because it fits with what is likely to be hypochondria in some people.

    See: A Critical Appraisal of “Chronic Lyme Disease New England Journal of Medicine.

  4. Paul White Avatar
    Paul White

    I really need to start taking those diseases seriously…I spend most weekends outside when I can but I hate wearing long sleeves or bug spray. Oh well…

  5. Linda Hunter Avatar

    a close look into the world of a tick finds that it is possible that lack of predators contribute to ticks in many habitats. Ticks have three phases of life where they need to eat on a host or die and the last phase includes being able to winter over on a host body and find a mate on that same body. One habitat that I looked into closely after noticing a huge tick infestation . . I found five ticks on my legs from a short bike ride. . sports hundreds of ground squirrels who have no predators because the local ranchers and others have made a big dent in the coyote population. I also discovered that wild turkeys love to eat ticks and will clean up an area if left to roam at their own pace. I am sure the whole issue of ticks would take much more research than I have time for . . but so far it has occurred to me that an unbalance in the host animals causes more ticks than usual. On the tape worm issue anyone who has watched bears all summer in Alaska knows that bears have them too . . and that salmon feeding areas where a lot of fishermen concentrate can be dangerously full of tape worms . . most fishermen don’t get them because they follow the rules and take precautions of good fish cleaning habits and food handling . . but some of the dumb stuff some guys pull . . well tape worms would get their attention.

    1. Jeremy B. Avatar

      Interesting thought Linda. The tapeworm “issue” is, frankly, a joke. There are many times the numbers of raccoons living in urban areas (where human densities are much higher; thus, risk of exposure is higher) and they carry diseases such as raccoon roundworm (not pretty) and raccoon rabies.

      The USDA has a program to control raccoon rabies (via immunization), but roundworm is far worse and is transmitted in the same way that tapeworms are transmitted (via contact with feces). Of course, there are a number of zoonotic diseases carried by species that are common in these urban areas (e.g. skunk, opossum, raccoon, etc.). All exist at far greater densities than wolves and occur in areas with far greater human densities. The difference is that no one is clamoring for their eradication.

  6. Si'vet Avatar

    Thanks Linda, dumb stuff that guys pull or politically correct, dumb stuff that people do. I resemble that remark.

    1. Linda Hunter Avatar

      You’re right it wasn’t politically correct to say dumb stuff guys do but when I picture the fishermen in Alaska it is mostly guys. . not that women don’t do plenty of dumb stuff too.

  7. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    A few kinds of birds eat ticks, but on the other hand, it is now clear that migratory birds do become infected with the lyme disease organism Borrelia burgdorferi, and spread the disease to new locations. They probably also spread a relatively new tick-borne disease, ehrlichiosis.

    Ehrlichia-Infected Ticks on Migrating Birds CDC

  8. Si'vet Avatar

    Ralph, did you catch the blip today in the paper on the WMA’s and west nile?

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar

      Oh yes, I did, regarding the Sterling Wildlife Management area.

  9. Si'vet Avatar

    I know you’ve been there, you have way too much free time. It is so over grown that it really isn’t about water fowl anymore. I think their geared more for the pheasant deal. The land is so plugged up from standing water I’m not sure what the benefits are. Johnson is just a puddle, and Orth, is an alkali, pit, reminds me of that area just north of the SLC airport, and Fingel not much there either. Mule deer are doing ok in the heavey cover, one nice old toad, that hasn’t been chewed up by dogs or run over. Your take

    1. Mark Gamblin (IDFG) Avatar
      Mark Gamblin (IDFG)

      Si’vet – Sterling WMA is managed for multiple wildlife resource benefits, but waterfowl production remains the highest priority. I’m interested in your (and others) experiences, thoughts, concerns about this wildife management area. If you would like, give me a call. I would like to discuss this with you since it’s become a significant management issue for the Southeast Region.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

Subscribe to get new posts right in your Inbox