As the winter of 2018-19 winds down, it is not too early to start thinking about ticks and how to stop them from biting us. Minnesota and Wisconsin are real hot spots for tick bites and tick diseases. Cold winter weather, though we had plenty of it this year, is not going to hurt the tick population. The only real deterrent to tick population growth is a cold, wet spring. That can have an impact on tick nymphs, causing them to die prematurely.
There are 13 known tick diseases in Minnesota. The regions where most of the tick diseases are spread are Eastern and Central Minnesota in the hardwood forests and woody and brushy areas of the state. Some of the most common diseases found in Minnesota and Wisconsin are Lyme, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia.
Most of us living in areas of trees and brush know someone who has contracted one of the tick diseases. Many times, the victims don’t recall that they ever had any evidence of a bite on their body; they just can’t figure out how it happened. One explanation for this is that it’s not just adult tick bites that cause disease, but also their offspring – nymphs, insects so small that sometimes they can barely be seen by the naked eye. Some bites, especially bites leading to Lyme disease, will leave a bull’s eye circle on the skin, but many times there is no evidence of a bite left behind.
The treatment for most of the tick diseases involves taking an antibiotic regimen. Most doctors feel this will take care of the problem. But effective treatment is a very controversial area of debate with many victims claiming life long effects from tick bites. It does appear that the longer it takes for a person to figure out they have one of the diseases, the harder it is to get rid of the disease. Many scientists feel that only about 5 percent of ticks carry a disease, but that is a number open for debate, too.
There are a number of precautions people living in high risk zones can take to reduce the odds of getting a tick bite; treat your pets for ticks, wear light colored clothing around trees and brush, do a complete body check before going to bed every night, check carefully around the base of your head where small ticks can hide in the hair, and spray your clothes with permethrin, a tick product that will kill ticks.
Last year for the first time a new product was introduced that can be sprayed on the human skin. It comes under a variety of names, and it is the first time such a spray was developed for human skin.
Tick diseases can change a person’s life forever. The time spent preventing bites is worth every minute of the effort it takes to be safe.