Mild year for ticks, but Lyme disease still prevalent

In general, adult blacklegged ticks are approximately the size of a sesame seed and nymphal ticks are approximately the size of a poppy seed.

KINGSFORD — Some good news for getting into the outdoors in the region: It appears to be a milder year for ticks.

While the Dickinson-Iron District Health Department has had more ticks submitted for testing this year than in 2018, Health Officer Daren Deyaert said he believes the number of ticks overall this season is lower than average, though no actual survey has been done.

That doesn’t mean precautions shouldn’t be taken against picking up one of these tiny hitchhiker parasites. Michigan has more than 20 known tick species, all out for blood. Many of the varieties can transmit diseases while they feed.

The American dog tick — more commonly known as the wood tick — can carry the bacteria for Rocky Mountain spotted fever, or tularemia. The wood tick accounts for 76 percent of all ticks submitted for testing in Michigan, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

The second-most common, at 15 percent, is the blacklegged or deer tick, the type most known to harbor the bacterium for Lyme disease, an illness that can result in arthritis, facial nerve paralysis, heart palpitations and meningitis if left untreated.

Though not all ticks carry diseases, the DIDHD encourages people to submit ticks for testing, Deyaert said — and resist the urge to kill it.

“As soon as the host dies,” he explained, “the bacteria dies.”

Ticks brought to the DIDHD are sent to an MDHHS laboratory, where they are identified and sexed. Typically, Deyaert said, female ticks carry the bacteria for Lyme disease — particularly those in the nymphal stage of their life cycle.

The DIDHD has had 12 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in 2019, with 15 more still under investigation. The total for the area since 2015 is 147, said registered nurse Ruth Manier, director of community health services for the DIDHD.

“We’re considered a high-incidence area,” Manier said. “We probably have 15 cases of Lyme disease for every one in Iron County.”

With that in mind, Manier recommends wearing proper clothing when going outdoors and applying insect repellents that contain 40 percent DEET. Be sure to read the label and instructions for proper application of any repellents, Manier stressed.

Other suggestionss from the MDHHS include:

— Avoid tick-infested areas. Walk in the center of trails to avoid contact with overgrown grass, brush, and leaf litter at trail edges.

— Protect pets as well. Use tick prevention products on pets is recommended.

— Use insect repellent containing DEET or Picaridin on exposed skin.

— Treat clothes — especially pants, socks, and shoes — with permethrin, which kills ticks on contact, or buy clothes that are pre-treated. Do not use permethrin directly on skin. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when applying any repellents.

— Perform daily tick checks. Always check yourself and your animals after being outdoors, even in your own yard. Inspect all body surfaces carefully, and remove attached ticks with tweezers. To remove a tick, grasp it firmly and as closely to the skin as possible, then pull from the skin with a steady motion. Cleanse the area with an antiseptic.

— Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors, preferably within two hours, to wash off and more easily find ticks crawling on you.

— Wash clothing in hot water and dry on high heat to kill ticks in clothing.

In addition to ticks, these precautions also provide protection from mosquitoes, which do seem to have benefitted from a wet spring. The main risk from them in the region is West Nile virus. Though only about 1 in 150 people will develop serious complications, West Nile fever can lead to encephalitis and meningitis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pamphlets on ticks and mosquitoes are available at the front desk of the DIDHD, 818 Pyle Drive in Kingsford.

“They’re here,” Deyaert said of the pests, “and they’re not going away.”

Brian Christensen can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 29, or bchristensen@ironmountaindailynews.com.