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Safeguard yourself from ticks

An adult female blacklegged (deer) tick, a
potential vector of Lyme disease and other diseases.
Photo:  Jeff Hahn, UMN Extension
As we enjoy spring, we seek outdoor activities to not only embrace the pleasant weather but to also help relieve some of the stress of being sequestered at home. Unfortunately with spring also comes ticks. Not to worry, with a few precautions, you can still enjoy the outdoors and protect yourself from these eight-legged pests.

How to ID your tick

The two most common ticks in Minnesota are the blacklegged tick (formerly called deer tick) and the American dog tick (also called wood tick). Both ticks are nuisances because they bite us for our blood. More scarily, they can also carry diseases which they can transmit to us.

By far, the blacklegged (deer) tick is the most important disease carrier in Minnesota. This tick is responsible for giving us Lyme disease. From 2010 – 2018, there have been over 10,500 reported cases of Lyme disease in Minnesota. Blacklegged ticks can also vector lesser known diseases such as anaplasomosis, babesiosis, and Powassan encephalitis.

Fortunately, the American dog tick is a rare vector of disease in Minnesota. It is responsible for just a few cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever each year. For more information on tick-borne diseases, see U of MN Extension’s Ticks.

Can ticks transmit COVID-19?

A question that have been on people’s mind this year is whether ticks can transmit COVID 19. While no one has conducted any tests yet, experts doubt ticks are capable of transmitting this coronavirus; similar viruses such as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) have never been found to be transmitted by ticks (or mosquitoes either).

According to Dr. Uli Munderloh in the University of Minnesota Department of Entomology tick lab, “Ticks are especially unlikely vectors since most do not move rapidly from host to host to feed.... Ticks attach and feed on one host, then take a digestive break for weeks. The virus would probably not survive that.”

How to protect yourself from ticks

Both of these ticks are commonly found in hardwood forests and adjacent grassy areas. Particularly protect yourself when you are in known tick areas.
  • Stay on trails and avoid when possible walking into brushy, grassy areas where ticks are more common.
  • Wear long, light colored pants so ticks are easier to see. For additional protection, tuck your pants into your socks.
  • Use repellants: Treat DEET on clothes and skin and use products containing permethrin just on clothing
  • Do a tick check when you return from the outdoors. They are small and can be easily overlooked so look carefully. Be sure to look in out of the way places, like behind ears or behind knees.
If you do find a tick, especially if it has been biting, get it positively identified to determine whether it is a blacklegged tick, a potential disease carrier.

For more information on tick control, see the University of Minnesota Extension page on Ticks.

Author: Jeffrey Hahn, Extension Entomologist
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