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Be on the Watch for Ticks

Jeffrey Hahn, University of Minnesota Asst. Extension Entomologist

With the early spring we have been experiencing this year, ticks have also been active sooner than normal. The two most common ticks we encounter are the American dog tick (also known as wood tick) and the blacklegged tick (formerly called deer tick). Both of these ticks are found in the underbrush of hardwood forests and adjacent open grassy fields

Both are annoyances because they bite people and our pets as they seek blood meals. However, blacklegged ticks are particularly a pest because of their ability to vector diseases. The most common disease they can transmit in Minnesota is Lyme disease (1,050 cases in 2008). Lyme disease is most common in central and eastern Minnesota. Blacklegged ticks are also known to vector human anaplasmosis (278 cases in 2008), babesiosis (24 cases in 2007), and Powassan virus (2 cases ever reported, both in Cass county).

blacklegged tick close-up.JPG

Photo 1: Blacklegged tick close-up. Jeff Hahn.

There are certain conditions that must occur for a blacklegged tick to successfully transmit a disease to you. First, it must be attached and biting you; if it is just crawling on you, it can not transmit disease to you. Second, if it is attached to you, it must be biting long enough. For Lyme disease, the blacklegged tick must be biting for at least 24 - 48 hours; for human anaplasmosis it needs to be biting for 12 - 24 hours. So if you go out into the woods in the morning and find a blacklegged tick biting you in the afternoon, it is doubtful that it has been attached long enough to transmit Lyme disease or human anaplasmosis.

Up to 30 days after contracting Lyme disease, most people (70 - 80%) experience a red circular rash. They may also experience fever, chills, headache, muscle and joint pain, and fatigue. If left untreated, these symptoms can progress into additional rashes, fever, arthritis, muscle pains, irregular heartbeats, stiff neck, and persistent fatigue. If Lyme disease continues to progress, symptoms that may be experienced weeks or months after the onset of illness can include swelling in joints, like knees, continued persistent fatigue, and nervous system problems.

If you suspect you may have contracted Lyme disease or another tick-borne disease, see your doctor. For information on other tick-borne diseases, go to Tick-borne Diseases in Minnesota.

Prevention is the best method to avoid ticks. Stay on trails when possible. Wear protective clothes, such as long pants and long sleeve shirts (tuck pants into socks for additional protection). Use repellents to maximize your protection. Apply DEET on clothes or skin. Use permethrin just on clothes. Permethrin is effective for several wearings and will be effective even if clothing is washed. It is not necessary to saturate clothing or skin with repellent, just apply enough to covered the desired.

When returning from a known tick area, be sure to check yourself for ticks. Promptly remove any and save for identification. For more information on ticks, see Ticks and Their Control.

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