Washtenaw County launches new tick, mosquito surveillance program

ANN ARBOR – The Washtenaw County Health Department has launched a new surveillance program to identify ticks and mosquitos present in the local area.

The Health Department, in partnership with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and as part of the Vector-Borne Disease Surveillance Program, will be collecting and identifying the insects to gauge the local disease risk. It will also be participating to add data to Michigan’s tracking system.

“The main goal of the program is to look for the types of mosquitoes and ticks that can spread illness,” environmental health director for the WCHD Kristen Schweighoefer said in a statement. “This helps us understand our local risk of mosquito- and tick-borne illnesses. We know that our changing climate can impact the presence of different disease vectors. Our work this summer will help us be proactive in protecting and informing our community.”

In order to collect the bugs, Health Department staff have installed mosquito traps in various locations throughout the county, including Ann Arbor Township, Pittsfield Township, Lyndon Township, Scio Township, Salem Township and Webster Township.

Mosquitoes that can transmit Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), Zika and other diseases include Aedes aegypti, A. albopictus, Culiseta melanura and Coquillettidia perturbans. The traps have WCHD signage and residents are asked not to disturb the traps if they discover them.

Staff will also be conducting “tick drags” throughout the county to identify different species and test them for Lyme disease. Deer ticks, also known as the blacklegged tick, are of interest for their role in spreading Lyme and other diseases.

According to the WCHD, Lyme disease cases in Washtenaw County doubled in 2021 compared to the year prior, with 54 cases reported.

So far this year, county staff have identified four Lone Star ticks, which are becoming increasingly common in the Lower Peninsula. While Lone Star ticks do not transmit Lyme disease, they can transmit a host of other diseases, including ehrlichiosis, tularemia, Bourbon virus, Heartland virus, and southern tick-associated rash illness (STARI), and may also be associated with alpha-gal syndrome (known as red meat allergy).

Zika mosquitoes have not yet been identified in Washtenaw County, and in 2016, three residents were found to have travel-related cases of the virus. West Nile Virus has been active in the county since 2002, with consistent cases in animals and humans annually.

How to prevent bites

Residents should take the following precautions listed on the WCDC website to prevent bites:

Mosquito bite prevention tips:

  • Use insect repellent. To find a repellant that’s right for you, use the Environmental Protection Agency’s insect repellent search tool.
  • Wear long sleeves, shoes, and socks when outdoors.
  • Repair screens to keep mosquitoes out of your home.
  • Reduce mosquito breeding conditions by eliminating standing water around your home. Once a week, empty flowerpots, tires, barrels, and other items that can hold water.

Tick bite prevention tips:

  • Check for ticks. Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held mirror, if necessary. Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in the hair.
  • Use insect repellent with 20% or more DEET.
  • Wear long sleeves, shoes, and socks when outdoors.
  • Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.
  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors after outdoor activities.
  • Examine gear and pets for ticks.
  • To remove a tick, use tweezers and grip the body firmly and pull straight out of the skin. Do not twist the tick. After removing the tick, clean the bite area and your hands. Ticks attached for fewer than 24 hours do not transmit disease.

Tick identification

MDHHS offers free tick identification to Michigan residents. To identify a tick you’ve found, email a photo to MDHHS-Bugs@michigan.gov.

According to MDHHS, individuals bitten by a tick should monitor for symptoms for up to 30 days following a bite, including rash, fatigue and fever.

Should individuals become ill, they are advised to seek prompt medical attention.

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.