Can we expect an uptick in ticks?

Emma Dale • May 15, 2017 at 8:00 AM

As the summer months in Michigan begin, so does the season of ticks.

Erik Foster, a medical entomologist with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said the factor that influences the abundance of ticks depends on their ability to survive winter.

Black legged ticks are the most concerning since they can carry lyme disease. Foster said it’s difficult to predict whether ticks will be more prevalent in a given year, but said summer 2017 is shaping up to be a bad season.

“The thought is that it may be a worse year,” he said. “And we are seeing quite a number of submissions to our state tick identification program already this year. The numbers are pretty high already. (The ticks) came out early and are quite abundant.”

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services runs a tick identification and testing program where the public can submit information on their website at michigan.gov/lyme to see if a tick is infectious.

Although black legged ticks are frequent, Foster said the most common is the American dog tick, which is widespread throughout the state. This tick is larger than the black legged tick, and is brown with white markings.

In Michigan, disease associated with the American dog tick is rare, but when infected, the risk is Rocky Mountain spotted fever. According to Foster, this infection — which produces a rash — is uncommon, with only one or two cases reported in Michigan last year.

Lyme disease as a result of tick bites, however, is becoming more frequent.

“Last year (in) 2016, we had 221 confirmed cases reported in Michigan, and that number has been slowly increasing over the decade,” Foster said.

Ottawa County Department of Public Health spokeswoman Kristina Wieghmink stressed the procedure of people checking for ticks on themselves and their animals after being outside. 

“April through September you’ll see more ticks out, (so) wear DEET bug repellent when you go outside,” Wieghmink said. “Avoid areas that have a lot of ticks, such as wooded, shaded areas, (and) places with long tall grass. You’ll want to wear protective clothing, long pants, long shirts. ... Wear light-colored clothing so you can see ticks if they get on you.”

Foster emphasized when working outside for people to periodically check themselves throughout the day, and shower after being outdoors for a while. He also suggested clothing treatments that resist ticks, as well as insect repellent.

”Another way to prevent tick prone disease is first off to know where ticks are, so be aware if there are ticks in the area,” Foster said. “We publish a map on our website that shows areas in the state where there is lyme disease, where ticks have been found to be infected.

“With lyme disease, if you can identify that tick quickly, even if it (has) bitten you, if you can get that tick off before 24-36 hours you can prevent lyme disease, because lyme disease takes quite a bit of time to be transmitted from a tick to a person.”

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