With nice weather, deer tick encounters on the rise

Lots of Northland residents — and their dogs — are encountering deer ticks this fall, but that doesn’t mean more deer ticks are out and about.

Chances are, people are finding more deer ticks (also called blacklegged ticks) simply because the weather has been so good and people are out in the woods more.

Deer ticks can cause Lyme disease and human anaplasmosis.

The only ticks out this time of year are deer ticks, said veterinarian Tom Dougherty of Dougherty Veterinary Clinics in Duluth. Wood ticks are a spring and early-summer phenomenon.

Dr. Johan Bakken, a consultant in infectious diseases at St. Luke’s hospital in Duluth, said deer tick encounters can be expected in a fall like the one Northland residents are experiencing.

“The sense I have is that this is not very unusual,” Bakken said. “The tick population that’s out now are adult ticks. They’re the largest and easiest to spot. Because of the mild weather we’ve had, it invites people to be outdoors more wearing lighter clothing.”

Because the ticks are larger than in the spring, people are more apt to see and remove them promptly, Bakken said.

“Whether or not this will be reflected in a blip on the monthly tick infection incidence chart remains to be seen,” he said. “I wouldn’t think so. If they (ticks) are large and spotted quickly, then they’re removed quickly.”

Ticks must remain attached for one to two days before they can transmit the Lyme disease bacteria, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Some research suggests that human anaplasmosis may be transmitted more quickly.

Guy Peterson, public health director for St. Louis County, said the Minnesota Department of Health hasn’t issued any warnings about increased numbers of deer ticks this fall.

“They send out updates almost daily, and I haven’t heard one statistical blip at all (about deer ticks), nor gotten any calls,” Peterson said.

He urged people who spend time in the woods to tuck their pantlegs into their boots and use DEET insect repellent as they would in the spring to discourage ticks.

Dougherty believes that people and their canine companions are seeing more deer ticks this fall.

“There is definitely a big fall surge, and this fall seems to be the biggest surge we’ve had,” Dougherty said.

Animals can be vaccinated against Lyme disease, Dougherty said, but there currently is no vaccine for anaplasmosis, another disease that can be carried by deer ticks. Various topical products are available that may help repel deer ticks on animals, he said.

“The moral of the story is that tick control is as important in mid- to late fall as in the spring,” Dougherty said.

Prevention

  • Check and re-check for ticks when you are in tick-infested areas.
  • When in deer tick habitat, walk in the center of the trail to avoid picking up ticks from grass and brush.
  • Wear light-colored clothing so ticks will be more visible.
  • Create a barrier to ticks by tucking pants into socks or boots and tuck a long-sleeved shirt into pants.
  • Use a repellent containing DEET or permethrin and carefully follow the directions on the container.
  • After being outdoors in tick habitat, get out of your clothes immediately, do a complete body check, shower and vigorously towel dry. Wash your clothes immediately to avoid spreading ticks around your living area.
  • Pets should also be checked for ticks.Tick removal
  • The risk of getting a tick-borne disease is small if the tick is removed soon after it becomes attached. Deer ticks must remain attached one to two days to transmit Lyme disease, and about one day for other diseases.
  • Take precautions when in tick habitat, but don’t panic if you find a deer tick on you. Not all ticks are infected, and prompt tick removal can prevent illness
  • Use tweezers to grasp the tick close to its mouth.
  • Gently and slowly pull the tick straight outward.
  • To avoid contact with the bacteria, if present, do not squeeze the tick’s body.
  • Wash the area and apply an antiseptic to the bite.
  • Watch for early signs and symptoms of Lyme disease.
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