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Protect Yourself From Tick Diseases

Jeffrey Hahn, Asst. Extension Entomologist

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) recently issued a news release detailing the marked increase in the number of tick-borne diseases in 2010. MDH tallied 2,069 cases of Lyme disease, Human anaplasmosis and babesiosis from last year. While the number of Lyme disease cases only went up a little, Human anaplasmosis cases more than doubled and instances of babesiosis were nearly twice as much compared to 2009.

Photo 1: Adult female blacklegged tick. Jeff Hahn.

Blacklegged ticks (formerly known as deer ticks) is the species responsible for transmitting these diseases. The highest risk areas in Minnesota are in the eastern, central, and southeast areas of the state. Symptoms are variable. When dealing with Lyme disease, many cases (but not all) exhibit a red, circular, bull's-eye rash. Other disease symptoms can range from no reaction to arthritis, neuropathy, headaches, fevers, chills, and muscle aches, joint swelling, cardiac and nervous system problems, and, in a few cases, death. For more information on tick-borne disease, see the University of Minnesota Extension fact sheet, Tick-Borne Diseases in Minnesota.

The risk of disease can occur any time from spring through fall. Take the proper precautions to protect yourselves from ticks.

- Avoid areas where ticks are likely to be found. Particularly stay on trails and avoid walking through woody, brushy, or grassy areas where ticks are most common.

- Wear protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Wear light colored clothes so it is easier to see ticks on you. For added protection, tuck pants inside socks.

- Use repellents for additional protection. Apply them to socks, pant legs, and parts of clothing that may brush against vegetation. DEET and permethrin are effective. Apply DEET to clothing and skin but apply permethrin only to clothing.

- Be sure to check your clothes and yourself when you have been outdoors in known tick areas. Save any suspected blacklegged ticks for identification.

When dealing with ticks in your yard, do the following:

- Keep grass and vegetation short around homes, where it borders lawns, along paths, and in areas where people may contact ticks as ticks are less likely to survive in short grass.

-. Remove leaf litter and brush, especially in areas where the lawn borders grassy, brushy areas. Also prune trees and shrubs in these areas to allow more sunlight through as ticks are more common in shaded areas.

- When large numbers of ticks are present in areas adjacent to home yards, you can treat the edges of wooded or brushy areas and paths to help reduce tick numbers. Use an insecticide labeled for a turf area, such as those containing permethrin, cyfluthrin, or carbaryl. Do not spray such an area more than once a year.

- It is not necessary to treat your lawn for ticks as ticks rarely infest maintained yards.

For more information on Minnesota Ticks, see the University of Minnesota Extension fact sheet, Ticks and Their Control.

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