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Don't be scared, be prepared: Tick season is here

From left to right are an adult female blacklegged tick, an adult male blacklegged tick, a nymph blacklegged tick and a blacklegged tick larva. Adult females and nymphs can transmit infections through their bites. (Scale of image is centimeters). Image from the Minnesota Department of Health1 / 2
Otter Tail County residents are at high risk of contracting tickborne diseases, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Image from the Minnesota Department of Health2 / 2

The height of tick season has arrived, and Perham area residents will want to be aware of how to protect themselves and their pets from contracting tickborne illnesses.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, Otter Tail County residents are at high risk of contracting a tickborne disease like Lyme, anaplasmosis and babesiosis.

Almost half the counties in the state have been designated as "high" risk, with the rest considered to be at "moderate" or "low" risk. The designations are based on the average number of incidences in each county of the three tickborne diseases named above, from 2007 to 2015.

Trevor Petrie, owner of Mosquito Joe, a company that sprays for mosquitoes, fleas and ticks in the Perham area, said he's heard local tick populations are a bit higher than usual this year, due to the warm winter.

Perham veterinarian Dr. William Rose, of Lakeland Veterinary Clinic, also expects ticks to be bad this year, though he hasn't seen much sign of that yet.

"Every year is bad... it's always bad," Rose said of the spring tick season. "We had a pretty mild winter with a nice snow cover, so I would expect the ticks to be particularly bad this year, but I haven't seen a lot of problems with them yet. But most dogs I see have some sort of protection (against ticks), because I talk to my pet owners about that... So I see a mostly protected population."

While spring tick populations tend to peak in April or May, depending on the weather, Rose said ticks are around almost all year long. They can be active any time the temperature is above 40 degrees and the grass is exposed, he said. That means that even when it's freezing out in February, if there's a nice warm, snowless spot in the sun somewhere, there could be active ticks in that spot.

"The only month that I have not seen ticks on a dog is the month of January," he said.

But there are things people can do to protect themselves and their pets.

Protect yourself

Some basic lawn maintenance can do a lot to keep ticks out of a yard and away from a home.

Mosquito Joe's Trevor Petrie suggests getting rid of any brush or leaf piles around the yard, and keeping the grass cut short, to reduce the number of places ticks like to breed and hide. Thick branches or bushes should be trimmed down until light can get through.

It also helps to keep deer and rodents out of the yard, he said, as they are known carriers and transporters of ticks. Those who want to be as thorough as possible can put a three-foot barrier of wood chips or rocks around their yard to deter ticks from crawling through onto the property.

Some pest control companies also offer home spray treatments as protection against ticks.

When venturing outside, especially into tall grass or the woods, people can help keep ticks off their skin by tucking their pants into their socks, wearing light clothing (which the bugs can more easily be spotted on), and using an insect repellent with DEET in it.

It also helps to shower as soon as possible after longer excursions outside, and to check yourself for ticks at the end of each day.

Protect your pets

There are all kinds of pet products on the market that promise to kill ticks once they're already on your animal's body, such as Frontline and K9 Advantix. Lakeland Vet Clinic's Dr. Bill Rose recommends these kinds of products be used, especially during peak tick seasons.

But the best prevention against Lyme disease, he said, is to have your dogs vaccinated every year. There has been a vaccine around to prevent Lyme in dogs for almost as long as Lyme has been around, he said, and it's proven to be very effective.

It's rare for vaccinated animals to contract Lyme. However, in this part of Minnesota, about 35-40 percent of unvaccinated dogs test positive for Lyme disease, according to Rose, and that number gets higher the further north you go. Up by the Canadian border, about 75 percent of unvaccinated dogs test positive for Lyme.

Rose recommends having bloodwork done once a year to monitor pets for tickborne diseases—not just for Lyme, but also for anaplasmosis, which he said is becoming more common in this area, and also for ehrlichiosis, which he has just started seeing around Perham.

These protective and preventive measures apply to all pets—those that live in the city as well as the country—he said, as ticks are found all over. Throughout his career, he's seen three dogs die from Lyme, and all of them were city dogs.

"If you have a dog, get them vaccinated," he said. "It's been proven to be very effective... Lyme is a preventable disease. You don't have to have miserable consequences."

If you find one on you

Not every discovered tick is worth rushing to the doctor for.

The Minnesota DNR states that the risk of getting a tickborne disease is small if the tick is removed soon after it becomes attached. Deer ticks must remain attached for one to two days to transmit Lyme disease, and about one day for the other diseases.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, adult female deer ticks, which are red and dark brown, and tiny nymph deer ticks, are the types that transmit infections. Male deer ticks, deer tick larva, and wood ticks do not transmit Lyme or the other diseases of concern in Minnesota.

There can be noticeable symptoms if a deer tick carrying a disease has bitten someone. A rash, body aches and fever are indicators and should be taken as a reason to go to the doctor. These symptoms can occur within 30 days of the tick having burrowed in.

If you find one burrowed into you, the DNR suggests you:

• Don't panic. 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 ticks' body.

• Wash the area and apply an antiseptic to the bite.

• Watch for early signs and symptoms of Lyme disease.

For more information about Lyme and other tickborne diseases, visit the Minnesota Department of Health's Tick-Transmitted Diseases webpage.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Perham Focus more than five years ago, and has since worn many hats as writer, editor and page designer. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their one-year-old son, Simon, and their yellow lab, Louisa. 

(218) 346-5900 x222
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