As the weather warms up and more people head outdoors, the District Health Department No. 10 is warning residents about the abundance of ticks in the area.
Recently, the health department said it has seen “an explosion of tick activity‘ this year across the state. According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ tick tracking database, the number of reported ticks has been increasing for several years. With the MDHHS seeing an increase in ticks in the Midwest, epidemiologist Dr. Kim Signs said people need to exercise caution while outdoors.
“We are seeing an emerging issue with black-legged ticks, which causes Lyme disease,‘ Signs said. “People should be aware and take precautions while being outside.‘
Through photo submissions on their website, Signs said they can identify the different ticks people have encountered in Michigan In the past few years, she said they have an increase in tick activity statewide, which has lead to more cases of tick-borne diseases in people and pets.
According to Signs, two of the most common ticks seen in the northern Michigan area are the American dog and black-legged ticks. These ticks are typically found in shady, moist wooded, and grassy areas and are most active when the temperature rises above 40 degrees. Signs recommended people avoid areas but pointed out people are at risk of encountering ticks anywhere.
“The most important thing for folks to know is they may encounter ticks while outdoors,‘ Signs said.
Encounters with ticks can put people at risk of contracting tick-borne diseases, according to Signs. Many of these diseases have non-specific or flu-like symptoms, which sometimes delay people from receiving treatment.
The most common disease seen in Michigan is Lyme disease, which is transmitted by black-legged ticks through bites. According to the MDHHS website, early symptoms of Lyme disease include a bulls-eye rash, fever, chills, and muscular pain. If left untreated, it can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system and become severe.
Though a tick has to be attached to a person for 24 to 48 hours to infect them with Lyme disease, Signs said the tick needs to be removed as soon as possible. The best way to remove a tick is by grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible using a pair of tweezers. Once grasped, Signs said you need to slowly and firmly pull upward, without twisting or jerking. It is recommended you should try to remove the mouthparts, but if that’s not possible, Signs said to leave the bite site alone to heal.
Another disease transmitted by black-legged ticks is anaplasmosis, which can lead to death if treatment is delayed. Signs said this disease is rare in Michigan though there has been an increase of cases in Michigan.
The most common tick found in Michigan is the American dog tick. Signs said this tick rarely transmits disease, but it is a carrier of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. RMSF is one of the deadliest tick-borne diseases, but it is rare in Michigan.
While treatment varies case by case, Signs said antibiotics prescribed by a doctor are the most common form of treatment for severe cases of tick-borne diseases.
Pets are also at risk of encountering ticks and bring them home. As with human cases, the Meyer Veterinary Clinic has seen an increase in cases of tick-borne diseases, according to veterinarian Kelley Hughston.
“We are starting to see more than a handful of cases of tick-borne illness,‘ Hughston said. “We are seeing dogs come back with positive titers for the disease causative agents for Lyme disease and anaplasmosis.‘
Similar to humans, Hughston said dogs with tick-borne diseases show non-specific symptoms. These symptoms can include low energy and appetite, shifting leg lameness, nose bleeds, and bruising on gums or skin.
Other than removing the tick and monitor the bite site, Hughston said there are no at-home treatment options for tick bites. At her clinic, Hughston said treatment is on a case-by-case basis. Antibiotics may be prescribed if a bite site appears infected, and a blood test could be recommended to monitor for antibodies for any tick-borne diseases.
As with many diseases, prevention is key to avoid becoming infected with any tick-borne diseases. For humans and pets, Signs recommended checking yourself for ticks when returning home from the outdoors. The best places to check are your hairline, waist, and folds in the skin such as under your arms and between your legs. Signs also recommended taking a shower to wash away any ticks and washing and drying your clothes to kill any attached to your clothing.
While outdoors, Signs said people should use EPA-approved insect repellent on their skin and permethrin spray on their clothing and sleeping bags. As for pets, Hughston said her clinic offers oral and topical products to protect against ticks, as well as an annual vaccine for Lyme disease for dogs.
Signs warned that humans and pets shouldn’t receive the same treatment for ticks and advised people to consult with a health professional before doing anything to themselves or their pets.