Prevention is your best defense against ticks
The number of tick-borne diseases jumped to record levels Minnesota last year, and human anaplasmosis now rivals Lyme disease, according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).
St. Joseph’s Area Health Services Emergency Department already reported in five confirmed cases of tick-born illness in April: human anaplasmosis (2), babesiosis (2) and Lyme disease (1).
“Given the nice weather and early spring, we have seen an earlier onset of tick infections this year and expect a longer season for the chance of getting a tick infection,” says Dr. Larry Leadbetter, St. Joseph’s Hospitalist and Infection Prevention Medical Advisor. Dr. Leadbetter is also Internal Medicine specialist at Essentia Health Park Rapids Clinic.
“The pattern of infections is similar to last year, just with earlier onset,” he adds. Last year, St. Joseph’s Emergency Department reported close to 50 confirmed cases of tick-borne illness. This figure does not account for cases at area clinics.
Hubbard County rests in a belt of high activity for ticks and is labeled high risk by the MDH.
“The number of ticks carrying infectious agents in the tick population has increased, and some ticks carry more than one type of infectious agent,” Dr. Leadbetter warns. “Knowing this, it is possible for an individual to have more than one infection at presentation from a single tick bite.”
When a patient is diagnosed with a tick-borne illness, Dr. Leadbetter recommends they consider a follow-up visit with their primary care provider after their initial treatment.
Confirmed cases on the rise
According to the MDH, early melting of Minnesota’s limited snow cover this winter coupled with recent warm temperatures have allowed blacklegged ticks, often called the "deer ticks," to feed across the forested regions of Minnesota. This tick carries the agents of several diseases including Lyme disease, human anaplasmosis, babesiosis, Powassan disease and a new form of human ehrlichiosis.
Over the last decade, 1,000 to 2,000 or more combined cases of these tick-borne diseases each year have been reported to the MDA, with these numbers increasing in recent years.
The risk for diseases from blacklegged ticks in Minnesota usually starts to rise in late spring and stays elevated until mid-summer, with a smaller peak again in autumn.
Blacklegged ticks carry most of Minnesota’s tick-borne diseases. In addition, American dog ticks (“wood ticks”), which are very common in spring and early summer throughout Minnesota, can carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF). MDH reported that a small number of RMSF cases, including one death, have occurred in Minnesotans who did not travel outside the state.
Prevention is best
The MDH says the best way to prevent tick bites is to avoid tick habitat during warm weather months including wooded or brushy areas for the blacklegged tick and grassy or wooded areas for the American dog tick.
If you can’t avoid tick habitat, use repellent to reduce the risk of disease. Landscape management techniques can also reduce risk from ticks. To make your yard less attractive to ticks keep your lawns mowed, remove leaves and brush and create a landscape barrier of wood chips or rocks between mowed lawns and woods.
Be diligent – Early detection is key
MDH recommends early detection of tick-borne illness to prevent severe complications. They say people should seek medical care if they develop an illness suggestive of a tick-borne disease after spending time in tick habitat.
Signs and symptoms of the various tick-borne diseases can include, but are not limited to, rash or bull’s-eye marking on skin, fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, joint pain or swelling, and facial droop. These symptoms can also be involved in other diseases, so it is important for a patient’s medical provider to consider tick-borne and non-tick-borne causes. Fatal cases of tick-borne disease occur each year in Minnesota residents. Except for Powassan disease, which is caused by a virus, all of Minnesota's tick-borne diseases are treatable with antibiotics.
More information about Minnesota’s tick-borne diseases, including signs, symptoms, and prevention, is available on the MDH website or by calling MDH at 651-201-5414.