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Michigan Experiencing Tick Uptick

Deer tick photo
Stuart Meek
/
Wikimedia Creative Commons
There are increasing numbers of ticks, like this deer tick, in Michigan this year.

A tick bite can cause serious health problems like Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. This year, it seems there are more of them than usual in Michigan.

WKAR’s Scott Pohl spoke with MSU entomologist Howard Russell about the “uptick” in the state.

SCOTT POHL: We're hearing reports that there are more ticks than ever in Michigan this year. Are you seeing indications that would bear that out? Are there more ticks this year?

HOWARD RUSSELL: We've seen an increase in ticks throughout the Lower Peninsula over the last 10 years. Twenty years ago, ticks in the Lower Peninsula were rare, but they have increased not only their geographical range, but their numbers within that geographical range. So, there were lots more ticks in 2020 compared to 2019.

I can only speak for myself, but around where I live, which is south a Mason, we're seeing a lot more ticks this year than we saw last year. For us, it's an ongoing battle. We probably found 20 or 25 in our house, primarily because we walk our dogs to tick areas and the dogs collect them, we collect them, and then they end up in the house. We've been battling them since the end of March as temperatures warmed in March. So yeah, ticks are increasing in Michigan, both the American dog tick, which is the most common tick I see in the lab, as well as the deer tick or black-legged tick, the one that causes Lyme disease.

POHL: It's my understanding that the geographical spread is heading towards Michigan's Thumb area. Is that correct?

RUSSELL: Well, I mean, that's one of the few, you know, sort of the last areas of the Lower Peninsula that hasn't experienced high numbers of ticks. And so I would sort of think that as ticks increase their range, that the Thumb will be affected like that. Of course, you know, the Thumb is intensely farmed, so there's not the areas where ticks would develop as there are around my place, but there are wooded areas, and brushy areas that aren't farmed, and I would expect ticks to increase in those areas as time moves forward.

POHL: You've brought up Lyme disease, which of course can be terribly dangerous for people to contract, but you've also raised the issue of ticks on pets. They're dangerous for our pets, too, aren't they?

RUSSELL: That's correct, dogs get Lyme disease as well. On our dogs, we use the product that will kill ticks if the ticks feed on them. But the problem is the ticks use our dogs as sort of relocation vehicles and they don't feed on them. They're very much alive when they either crawl off the dog or the dog brushes them off on something else. So, ticks can be pretty serious for pets, especially if they get lots of them on them.

POHL: You tend to see different methods for removing a tick when you discover one. What methods do you suggest?

RUSSELL: We use tweezers. We just grab the tick as close as we can, where it's attached to the skin, and pull it off.

POHL: Aren't there instances where the head stays attached to your skin, though is that an issue?

RUSSELL: Oh well, not that maybe, but you can certainly pull that out if it does stay. And if it does, if you can't get it out, it’s no worse than, say, a small sliver. There's no disease associated just with the mouthparts. It's not as serious as what you might think.

It's important especially with deer ticks to get them off you if they are attached. It's important to get them off before they've been there for 48 hours. That's how long it takes for the Lyme disease pathogen, which resides in the lower gut of the tick, to move through the digestive system of the tick through the mouth parts and into the wound. So, by removing them within 48 hours, you greatly decrease your chances of getting Lyme disease if the tick is carrying it.

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