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Take steps to guard against nasty ticks

April made for a rough start to spring 2018, with snow and cold hanging on through the month.

May mostly has been kinder and gentler. But with spring finally asserting itself in the region, so too has come a return of ticks.

While just plain icky parasites, ticks also pose a significant health threat. The blacklegged tick — which like the deer tick can carry Lyme — is well-established in Michigan’s western Upper and Lower Peninsulas, state officials said, and continues to expand into new areas.

The state had fewer than 30 human cases of Lyme disease a year reported from 2000 and 2004 but that jumped to 90 reported cases by 2009, and in 2017 the state saw more than 300 human cases of Lyme disease, with roughly 2 in 3 cases from exposure in Michigan. Lyme disease-infected ticks have been identified in 34 of Michigan’s 83 counties.

Officials with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate the number of Lyme disease cases nationwide could be 10 times higher than what’s reported.

“With the expansion of blacklegged ticks into new areas in Michigan, the most important way to protect against Lyme disease is to prevent tick bites,” said Dr. Eden Wells, chief medical executive of the MDHHS.

Although ticks can spread multiple illnesses, Lyme disease, caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, is the most commonly reported tick-borne disease in Michigan.

But the CDC reports diseases spread by mosquitoes, ticks and fleas tripled in the U.S. from 2004 to 2016.

So what can you do, besides cowering inside even when the outdoors beckons with warmer temperatures, blooming flowers and lush green growth?

The MDHHS suggests trying these steps to prevent tick bites:

— 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 20 to 30 percent 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.

For more information about Lyme disease, go to www.cdc.gov/lyme or www.michigan.gov/lyme.

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