It’s spring. Time for warmer weather, sunny days and long walks.
But be careful, because the latter could pose some hidden dangers.
Springtime brings a variety of ticks. And this year they’ll be out in full force again.
The season is expected to be another big year for ticks because of an overall warming trend and more people getting outside.
“Many of us have heard about the tick boom over the past few years,” said Rosemary Olivero, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “It’s important to remember that we always expect a dramatic increase in the presence of all types of ticks during May.”
On the move
The black-legged tick, among those found along the Lake Michigan shorelines, is also known as the deer tick. It can cause Lyme disease, the most common tick-borne infection in Michigan.
But there’s more trouble than just that one disease, Dr. Olivero said.
These other types include the American dog tick, lone star tick, woodchuck tick and brown dog tick.
“Luckily these infections are quite rare in Michigan,” Dr. Olivero said.
The tick problem continues because of the multi-year trend of mild winters, said Paul Bellamy, MPH, epidemiologist at the Kent County Health Department. It gives the tick population more opportunity to survive.
The black-legged tick can come out anytime the temperature is above freezing, Bellamy said.
“We definitely have a trend of ticks moving north into the Midwest, but it’s not full-blown yet,” he said. “Ticks have been found in Kent and surrounding counties.”
The risks of infection from various diseases can change from year to year.
Powassan cases increase when there’s more mice, which carry ticks.
Symptoms of this serious infection can include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures and memory loss. It can also cause long-term neurologic problems.
There is no specific treatment, but some people need to be hospitalized to receive respiratory support and intravenous fluids or medications to reduce swelling in the brain, according to the CDC.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services also provides information and updates on tick data.
One of the best methods of prevention? Education.
The more that people learn about proper prevention of bites and the spread of disease from mosquitoes, ticks and fleas, the safer they’ll be.
Bellamy said to be on guard when you go outside, particularly if you’re walking through tall grass.
He suggests checking yourself when you get home, as well as checking your pets if they’ve been out.
Also, if you’re working outside, be sure to check your equipment for ticks.
“Make sure you take a shower when you come in from outside, because that’s the best way to see if you’ve picked up any ticks,” Bellamy said.
Remove it right
If you do find a tick attached to your body, remove it properly.
There are some instructional videos online, although Dr. Olivero recommends this video to learn the proper method.
For Lyme disease to be transmitted, a tick would need to be attached to the host for 24 to 48 hours. If you can remove it quickly enough, you can keep from getting Lyme disease.
A daily tick check can spot any attached ticks.
“Important areas to check include the hairline and behind the ears,” Dr. Olivero said. “Carefully, using pointed tweezers, is the most effective way to remove a tick.”
When removing a tick, be sure to pull straight up. Once it’s removed, you can put it in a jar and then place it in the freezer. Then, if you develop symptoms, you can take the tick to the doctor to identify it.
Don’t resort to quick tips you find online, such as using essential oils, gasoline, hand sanitizers or a heated object. These techniques may just irritate or injure the tick and boost the chances of it transmitting a disease, Bellamy said.
“Some of the online advice is not only questionable but potentially harmful,” Bellamy said
Be careful when removing a tick, Bellamy cautioned. If it’s injured, that increases the risk of being infected.
Two effective ways to prevent tick bites: wear long sleeves and use insect repellents.
Get the app
A resource Dr. Olivero recommends is the tick app, created by researchers from Michigan State University and other schools.
It can help you identify a tick and offer appropriate next steps.
“During the spring and summer months, it is very common for people and caregivers to seek care after they have found a tick latched onto someone’s body,” Dr. Olivero said. “When it comes to helping patients understand their risk for contracting Lyme disease from a tick, it is extremely helpful to identify the species of a tick.
“Because Lyme is only transmitted by the black-legged tick, you only need to seek medical care if that tick was the culprit of the bite,” she said.
The CDC also offers a tick tracker, which includes data searchable by region and date.