Tick Season Set to Explode in June
Dave Neitzel, a Minnesota Department of Health epidemiologist specializing in mosquitoes and tick diseases says that he and his colleagues “expect the highest-risk period for tick-borne diseases to occur over the next few weeks in Minnesota.” Extremely dry conditions are unfavorable for ticks and so the recent wet, humid conditions have allowed tick populations to bounce back quickly after the late snow. Indeed, immature ticks (nymphs) are already pretty active and patients have already been heading to their physicians with reports of ticks bites and requests for tests for Lyme disease.
No Increase in Cases… Yet
Some good news, however, is that there have not been higher numbers of reports of tick-related diseases, yet. But that could change as the two-tier testing model for Lyme disease usually means that there is a delay between a bite, antibody build-up and positive serological results. Many Minnesotans are already au fait with Lyme disease prevention strategies and it is this awareness, combined with the dry weather last year, that is being cited as the cause of lower reports of tick-borne illnesses in 2012. Just 911 cases were reported, compared to 1201 in 2011 and over a thousand cases each year between 2007 and 2011. Minnesotans are being advised, again, to avoid wooded areas, stick to the center of paths when out walking, to perform regular tick checks of all family members, including dogs and cats, and to use DEET-based tick-repellent as recommended.
Mosquitoes are harder to avoid, however, and can cause a raft of diseases in humans and animals, including west nile virus, encephalitis, and heartworm in dogs. Minnesota plans on spending around $17 million this year alone to try to contend with mosquitoes and officials are alerting residents now as peak season has been delayed by the cooler weather earlier in the year. Mass spraying of the state covers about half of the populated areas (2700 square mile) but a declining population of mosquitoes does not mean that residents can relax. Fewer pest mosquitoes means a rise in the number of mosquitoes carrying disease, according to local health officials.
Avoiding Lyme Disease and Coinfections in Minnesota
The most commonly reported tick-borne diseases in Minnesota are Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis but there are a number of other types of bacteria and viruses carried by ticks in the state. These include Powassan disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis, and tularemia and with recent evidence suggesting that the lone star tick may also transmit Lyme disease the risks of misdiagnosis may be high. Residents are warned to focus the use of tick-repellents below the waist as ticks climb up from long grass and to make sure that they wear light-colored clothing so as to easily spot ticks. Good landscape practices can also help reduce risks of tick exposure so now that the weather is improving perhaps it is time to cut the grass and avoid the anticipated rise in tick bites in Minnesota.