Tickborne diseases on the rise in Michigan

Experts say this season may be worse than usual

By Frank McGeorge - Reporter

LANSING, Mich. - Ticks are tiny, but they can be trouble.

"They're really good crawlers, and they're really stealthy. It's amazing how they can get into some places that you didn't even think that they could get to," said Michelle Rosen from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Rosen has years of experience researching ticks and no shortage of subjects. According to the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH), tickborne diseases are on the rise in our state. In 2013, Michigan experienced a nearly 60 percent increase in cases of acute Lyme disease, with 165 cases reported, up from 98 in 2012.

Experts warn that this past winter has probably made this season even worse than usual.

"The snow can actually act as a blanket on an insulator for some of the ticks because they overwinter in the ground," said Rosen.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that is the case, more people have reported seeing ticks in places they may not have in the past.

Experts warn, as the tick population continues to increase, more people will run into them more often.

"I would say that our most common tick in Michigan is the dog tick," said Rosen. "It's pretty much throughout the state. We've found them when the temperature is usually above 45 degrees, so May through November. In southeast Michigan, we've seen an increase in the dog ticks over the last few years."

While the dog tick can carry diseases, they are not as big a concern as the black legged tick.

"[Blacklegged ticks] are mostly found on the west side of the state, kind of going up the coast," Rosen said.

According to the MDCH, these are the ticks that carry Lyme disease and they are common in all of the counties bordering the western Lower Peninsula. Currently, Lyme disease is considered a concern along the western shores of Michigan from Leelanau and Traverse counties in the north down to Berrien and St. Joseph in the south. The case count of Lyme disease mirrors the location of blacklegged ticks.

Initially, Lyme disease can cause a rash, fever, body aches and other vague symptoms. However, if it progresses it can cause severe problems, such as chronic joint pain, nerve damage and even heart problems. When treated early with antibiotics most complications can be avoided.

Ticks are not especially fast insects, they don't fly, but they have a knack for finding animals to feed on.

"Ticks mostly quest. Questing means they feel out for different vibrations or CO2, different cues that sense a difference in an animal coming by." Rosen said.

Ticks are so good at questing that when researchers want to collect them for study, all they have to do is drag a cloth over the ground. If that cloth is your pant leg, you could be their next meal.

"Their first two legs will lift up and they'll look for an animal and then when an animal brushes up against vegetation they'll grab onto it." said Rosen.

The smaller the tick, the harder they are to spot on your body. That is why the small nymph stage of the black legged tick is particularly problematic. They are hard to detect.

"They could even look like a freckle on someone if they haven't fed yet." said Rosen.

Avoiding ticks is one way to avoid diseases they carry. When you travel, pay attention to the ticks in the area.

"If you're traveling to the Lake Michigan coast or you're traveling to southeast Michigan and you're staying in the state park they should have some signs there," Rosen said.

Insect repellent with DEET, used more often against mosquitoes, is also an effective tick repellant.

When you are out and about, it helps to keep to the center of trails, out of brushy vegetation ticks live in. Your clothing choice is also helpful.

"You want to wear light colored clothing. That doesn't help prevent getting ticks on you, but they're easier to see when you're wearing light clothing with a finer mesh," said Rosen.

Regularly checking your body for ticks is also important. Areas to pay special attention are the hairline, behind ears and around your underwear line where a tick could crawl into.

If you do find a tick, Rosen recommends promptly removing it using fine tipped tweezers at the base of your skin. If you have a tick and you're concerned about what diseases it might transmit, you can have it analyzed. You can send it to the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and they will identify the tick for you for free. Click here to learn more about that process.

If you are a Wayne county resident, experts there will also identify a live tick for free if you bring it to the Wayne County Environmental Health Office. The address is 5454 S. Venoy, Wayne. You can call 734-727-7400 for more information.

For more information on Lyme disease and to learn how to identify ticks in Michigan, click here.

To learn more about protecting yourself from ticks, click here.

Copyright 2014 by ClickOnDetroit.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.