Tick season in Michigan: How to stay safe as lyme disease risk spreads east

Tick season has arrived in Michigan - and that's not a good thing.

Although ticks can spread multiple illnesses, Lyme disease is the most commonly reported tick-borne disease in Michigan. Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted by the blacklegged/deer tick. 

Related: 5 invasive insects to watch out for in Michigan

The blacklegged tick is well-established in Michigan’s western Upper and Lower Peninsulas. However, it is expanding into new areas across the Lower Peninsula. In 2017, there were more than 300 human cases of Lyme disease reported, and approximately two out of three cases reported exposure in Michigan.

The 2019 Lyme Disease Risk Map shows the risk area continuing to move east, into Metro Detroit:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported last year that diseases spread by mosquitoes, ticks and fleas tripled in the U.S. from 2004 to 2016. The report also concludes that Lyme disease is an increasing concern for Michigan. To read the full report, visit the CDC website. 

How to protect yourself from ticks

Avoid tick-infested areas. 

  • Walk in the center of trails to avoid contact with overgrown grass, brush and leaf litter at trail edges.
  • Protect your pets too! Dogs and cats can come into contact with ticks outdoors and bring them into the home, so using tick prevention products on pets is also recommended.

Use insect repellent. 

  • Apply repellent containing DEET (20-30 percent) or Picaridin on exposed skin.
  • Treat clothes (especially pants, socks and shoes) with permethrin, which kills ticks on contact or buy clothes that are pre-treated. Do not use permethrin directly on skin. 
  • Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when applying repellents. 

Perform daily tick checks. 

  • Always check for ticks on yourself and your animals after being outdoors, even in your own yard. 
  • Inspect all body surfaces carefully, and remove attached ticks with tweezers. 
  • To remove a tick, grasp the tick firmly and as closely to the skin as possible. With a steady motion, pull the tick’s body away from the skin. Cleanse the area with an antiseptic.

Bathe or shower. 

  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you. 
  • Washing clothing in hot water and drying on high heat will kill ticks in clothing.
  • Michigan citizens can submit ticks to MDHHS for identification and possible Lyme disease testing, free of charge. 

Michigan's five most common ticks 

What to know about Lyme Disease:

Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted by the blacklegged tick.  It is the most commonly reported vector-borne disease in the United States and it is spreading across the state of Michigan.

Related: 5 invasive plants to watch out for in Michigan 

Typical clinical signs include flu-like symptoms however, if left untreated may spread to joints, the heart, and/or the nervous system.  The majority of cases can be treated successfully with antibiotics.  Finding and removing ticks promptly can prevent Lyme disease. 

Early Signs and Symptoms (3 to 30 days after tick bite)

  • Fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint aches, and swollen lymph nodes
  • Erythema migrans (EM) rash:
    • Occurs in approximately 70 to 80 percent of infected persons
    • Begins at the site of a tick bite after a delay of 3 to 30 days (average is about 7 days)
    • Expands gradually over a period of days reaching up to 12 inches or more (30 cm) across
    • May feel warm to the touch but is rarely itchy or painful
    • Sometimes clears as it enlarges, resulting in a target or “bull’s-eye” appearance
    • May appear on any area of the body
    • See examples of EM rashes

Later Signs and Symptoms (days to months after tick bite)

  • Severe headaches and neck stiffness
  • Additional EM rashes on other areas of the body
  • Arthritis with severe joint pain and swelling, particularly the knees and other large joints.
  • Facial palsy (loss of muscle tone or droop on one or both sides of the face)
  • Intermittent pain in tendons, muscles, joints, and bones
  • Heart palpitations or an irregular heart beat (Lyme carditis)
  • Episodes of dizziness or shortness of breath
  • Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord
  • Nerve pain
  • Shooting pains, numbness, or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Problems with short-term memory

Related: 11 invasive species to watch out for in Michigan

How to help keep ticks out of your yard, house in Michigan

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