While tick-borne illnesses are part of living in and visiting the lakes area, there are ways to prevent or limit exposure.
Education is also key in learning where ticks are most prevalent and how to recognize symptoms of tick-borne illnesses. Ticks are most active in the spring and early summer and by now the tick season is at the tail end. They become active again in the fall. With mild winters, ticks may be active when the ground temperature reaches 50 degrees.
Specialists in health and safety from the state health department, the Department of Natural Resources, Crow Wing County and Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center and UrgentCare, recently participated in a community health panel on tick-borne diseases at the Northland Arboretum.
Tips to prevent a tick bite:
➤ Create a “dry barrier” around your lawn to separate the tick’s woodland environment from the space most often used by people with wood chips or rocks. David Neitzel, epidemiologist, acute disease investigation and control, Minnesota Department of Health, said ticks are not walking great distances. The ground dweller’s movement is mainly up on the vegetation and then back down to their home beneath the leaf litter on the forest floor.
A solution of permethrin may be applied to low-lying vegetation. There are now businesses in the lakes area that will spray for ticks. Removing leaf litter and brush from yards is also recommended.
Ticks don’t like dry conditions (extreme dryness causes tick death) and are more active on humid days, which is why walking on paved trails or dry areas with mown grass is another way to limit exposure. Ticks that have not fed on a host go dormant. If one is left in the house, perhaps carried in by a pet, it should dry out and die within a few days if it doesn’t attach to a host.
➤ Wear light colored clothing, which makes it easier to see ticks. Tuck pants into socks or boots. Apply an insect repellent containing permethrin or DEET. Permethrin lasts through multiple washings but can only be applied to clothing. A 30 percent DEET solution may be applied to skin and clothing.
Eric Goslovich, safety and health officer, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), reported the DNR is utilizing a number of clothing options to battle tick diseases, such as lower leg and ankle pant protectors known as gators. The DNR has also utilized pants with an interior lining from the ankle to the knee that keep ticks from attaching to the skin. Focus attention below the knee.
Finding ticks early is a key to preventing an attached tick from infecting a person. If a tick is removed within 36 hours, the risk of disease transmission is significantly reduced. If a tick is plump, meaning it has been feeding on blood, it has likely been attached long enough to transmit a disease if it is infected.
The blacklegged tick nymph, which is the size of a poppy seed, transmits the most disease because it is so difficult to detect, the Minnesota Department of Health reports.
➤ Remove a tick by pulling it out with slow and steady method, either with a tweezer or by hand or with a tool designed for tick removal.
“You really don’t need to get that mouth part out,” Henry said. “Your body will work that out by itself.”
Cutting the skin to remove them only opens the subject up to a secondary infection.
A blacklegged tick has lips of a fashion that fall on either side of a barbed mouth piece, which is why they are often more difficult to remove than a common wood tick. The wood tick often is removed more easily and with a white dry substance that many people think of as skin. But Neitzel said that is actually dried tick saliva that is used as a glue-like adhesive to help the tick stay attached.
➤ If a tick is removed before it has been on for 36 hours and is not engorged and the person has no symptoms, Henry said they don’t need to seek medical treatment. If they do have symptoms, they should contact their primary physician. Essentia Health reported same-day appointments are available at most clinics. People don’t need to save the tick as it isn’t sent for testing.
Symptoms may show up three to 30 days after a tick bite.
➤ Lyme — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note the typical symptoms for Lyme disease “include fever, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and a characteristic bulls-eye skin rash. ... If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system.” But symptoms can vary widely between individuals.
There may be multiple rashes but Dr. Peter Henry, Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center director of emergency medicine, said that doesn’t mean there are multiple tick bites as the rashes may come with a single tick.
Other symptoms include facial paralysis on one side, stiff neck, weakness, numbness and arm or leg pain, an irregular heart beat and persistent weakness and fatigue, joint swelling. The symptoms may persist for weeks or months if not treated.
➤ Human anaplasmosis — nearly everyone infected gets a high fever between 102 to 104 degrees. Symptoms include a severe headache, muscle aches and severe complications may include a septic or toxic shock syndrome with respirator or renal failure.
Dr. Kurt DeVine, Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center UrgentCare in Baxter, said they’ve had five to 10 cases of anaplasmosis in a single day. DeVine said they often have people come in who have never heard of anaplasmosis and are sure they haven’t been bitten by a tick and are surprised by the diagnosis.
Blood work or a smear are used for detection. But doctors note that can be tricky as infected patients have been known to have normal blood work. Early tests for Lyme may not be accurate, but the rash is a tell-tale indicator even with a negative test.
With ticks carrying more than one disease, it’s not uncommon to have patients dealing with more than one illness at the same time. A co-infection may increase the severity and length of the illness.
➤ Babesiosis — High fever along with loss of appetite, anemia and complications that may include respiratory, heart and renal failure. Henry said babesiosis is found in people whose immune systems aren’t functioning at the highest level. He said people who have had their spleen removed are at risk here.
Treatment comes with antibiotics.