Warm weather ushers in early tick season

Minnesota’s unusual stretch of warm weather in late winter and early spring has led to a sudden start to the tick-borne disease season.

Blacklegged ticks, often called “deer ticks,” is the type of tick that carries the agents of several diseases, including Lyme disease, human anaplasmosis, babesiosis, Powassan disease, and a new form of human ehrlichiosis. Over the last decade, 1,000 to 2,000 or more combined cases of these tick-borne diseases each year have been reported to the Minnesota Department of Health, with numbers increasing in recent years.

It’s also a local problem.

For instance, in Wright County during the last decade there were 186 combined cases of these tick-borne diseases with Lyme disease taking the lead, according to Christine Austin-Roehler with Wright County Public Health. From 2000 through 2010 there were 157 cases of Lyme disease in Wright County with the majority occurring in the last five years.

“Wright County is on the edge of the highest risk areas to the north and east,” she said.

Blacklegged ticks carry most of Minnesota’s tick-borne diseases. In addition, American dog ticks (“wood ticks”) can carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

The best way to prevent tick bites is to avoid tick habitat during warm weather months:

•Wooded or brushy areas for the blacklegged tick

•Grassy or wooded areas for the American dog tick

If you can’t avoid tick habitat, use repellent to reduce the risk of disease:

•DEET-based repellents (up to 30 percent DEET), which can be applied to clothing or skin for temporary protection.

•Permethrin-based repellents, which are used to pre-treat fabric and can protect against tick bites for at least two weeks without reapplication.

To make your yard less attractive to ticks:

•Keep lawns mowed short

•Remove leaves and brush

•Create a landscape barrier of wood chips or rocks between mowed lawns and woods

•To reduce tick numbers at your yard-woods interface:

•Apply pesticide treatments in the spring or early summer along the edges of wooded yards and trails.

Signs and symptoms of the various tick-borne diseases can include, but are not limited to, rash, fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, joint pain or swelling, and facial droop.

For more information about Minnesota’s tick-borne diseases, go to www.health.state.mn.us or contact Wright County Public Health at 763-682-7464.