Tick activity heats up with the weather

By HANNAH JOHNSON
hannah.johnson@ecm-inc.com

It’s time to dig out your bug repellent.

Ticks are emerging and mosquitoes will follow soon. Since Minnesota had a mild winter it’s likely that Washington County will see higher tick numbers than usual, said Mike McLean, the public information officer of the Metro Mosquito Control District (MMCD).

"We’re starting to see them," McLean said. "The lack of a harsh winter shows up in higher tick numbers."

And with ticks come Lyme disease. At least with black-legged ticks, also known as deer ticks. Ticks typically "feast" on forest rodents, whether it’s a chipmunk or squirrel, and then spread disease.

"That’s really where the reservoir of Lyme disease comes from," McLean said. "And when you have one mild winter after another the abundance of those little creatures gets high because they benefit from mild winters too. So it’s kind of a complex cycle. Things change in very subtle ways when you have several mild winters in a row because it has more to do with availabilities for little rodents for blood meals."

The MMCD tracks tick activities across the seven counties in the metro area. Ticks are prevalent in Washington County since it’s a very wooded area, said Dave Neitzel, a Minnesota Department of Health epidemiologist who specializes in transmitted diseases by tick and mosquitoes.

"There have been cases of tick borne diseases in the Department of Public Health," Neitzel said, adding that it’s too soon to have statistics ready. "Much of Washington County has wooded parts that are risk areas for tick transmitted diseases."

The peak season for ticks is mid-May through July. Oak Park Heights City Administrator Eric Johnson recently took a medical leave of absence to treat Stage Three Lyme disease.

The MMCD offers a "Tick Risk Meter" at its website (www.mmcd.org) that measures black legged tick activity across the seven counties as well as how likely it is you’ll encounter a black legged tick. The risk factor is currently high across the counties.

The MMCD lists several precautions regarding ticks, including:

* Stick to the center of the trail when hiking in wooded areas.

* Wear light colored clothes so ticks are more visible.

* Use insect repellent.

* Check yourself thoroughly for ticks after being in the woods.

* Save brush-cutting projects for the month of August.

You should also always remove a tick immediately. It usually takes at least 24 hours for a tick to transmit Lyme disease bacteria.

Ticks aren’t the only blood suckers to worry about. Mosquitoes will also start becoming a problem, but maybe not as much of a problem as some might think. There has been concern about how the mild winter and early spring season will impact the number of mosquitoes in the area, but McLean said the state will most likely see an average mosquito year.

"We had an abnormally warm March but we also had an abnormally cool April, so they kind of cancel each other out," McLean said.

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