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TICK-BORNE DISEASES PART TWO: Protection, early detection

A wood tick crawled along a stalk of grass alongside a Brainerd hiking trail.1 / 4
The nymph state of a deer tick is the size of grain of pepper. Adults aren’t muc2 / 4
Both deer ticks and wood ticks are abundant in the lakes area. Wood ticks are tw3 / 4
Black-legged ticks, called deer ticks, with orange-brown bodies and black legs,4 / 4

Simple measures can help reduce the chance of contracting a tick-borne illness while still enjoying the great outdoors, or in the lakes area, the backyard. 

 “Summers are so short we don’t want to scare people from being outside and of course a lot of the people that live around here can’t help but go outside,” said Dave Neitzel, MDH epidemiologist specializing in tick-borne diseases. “We just want to arm people with the knowledge of when and where they are at risk and how they can protect themselves using a good repellent ... then they can enjoy the outdoors without a high risk of a tick-borne disease.”

Neitzel said repellents with Permethrin, especially, and 30 percent Deet are recommended. Permethrin, available at sporting goods stores, is a pesticide and not meant to be sprayed on the skin. It is designed to be sprayed on clothing and the repellent lasts through numerous washings. 

Other recommendations: wear light-colored clothing to make ticks easier to spot; pull socks up over pant legs to keep ticks from easy access to skin; avoid grassy, wooded or brushy areas or stay on the center of trails to avoid tick contact; keep lawns short and create a barrier of wood chips or rocks between the yard and the woods; and check for ticks after leaving tick habitat. 

Once an embedded tick is found, it is important to remove it promptly as length of time increases chances for infection in the human host. An attached deer tick typically needs to be feeding 12 to 24 hours to infect the host. A tick carrying Lyme disease usually has to be attached one to two days. 

Neitzel said those with anaplasmosis rapidly develop a high fever and are very sick in a hurry. 

Tick-borne diseases have increased in number well beyond the now, perhaps more familiar concerns with Lyme disease. The ultimate effects with some of the illnesses, including anaplasmosis and babesiosis may be debilitating in the short term and even deadly. 

Cases of babesiosis have remained small in the lakes area, numbered easily on one hand in the seven county area annually.  Neitzel said more people may be infected but their immune system is able to fight off the infection, which the elderly or those with compromised immune systems may not be able to do. 

People can have more than one tick-borne disease at the same time. Keeping the tick, if one is found, may help as people seek medical help. Neitzel said the one benefit with those who are infected multiple times is that they seek medical attention even earlier by recognizing the symptoms. 

Aitkin, Cass and Crow Wing counties are on a short six-county list in the state where anaplasmosis cases exceeded Lyme disease last year. The culprit is the small black-legged tick, commonly called the deer tick after its familiar woodland host. 

Lyme disease cases reported by year in area counties:

• Aitkin — 17 in 2008; 17 in 2009; 22 in 2010. 

• Cass County — 32 in 2008; 37 in 2009; 42 in 2010. 

• Crow Wing County — 65 in 2008; 51 in 2009; 38 in 2010. 

• Mille Lacs — 13 in 2008; 9 in 2009; 14 in 2010.

• Morrison — 7 in 2008; 16 in 2009; 14 in 2010. 

• Todd — 10 in 2008; 6 in 2009; 11 in 2010. 

• Wadena — 7 in 2008; 3 in 2009; 9 in 2010. 

Anaplasmosis cases reported by year in area counties:

• Aitkin — 14 in 2008; 18 in 2009; 30 in 2010. 

• Cass  — 29 in 2008; 24 in 2009; 54 in 2010. 

• Crow Wing — 20 in 2008; 48 in 2009; 66 in 2010. 

• Mille Lacs — 3 in 2008; 4 in 2009; 8 in 2010. 

• Morrison — 4 in 2008; 6 in 2009; 11 in 2010. 

• Todd — 1 in 2008; 2 in 2009; 2 in 2010. 

• Wadena — 3 in 2008; 2 in 2009; 9 in 2010. 

Ticks are most active in late spring and early summer, but people aren’t out of the woods, so to speak, after that as ticks are again active in September through November. 

Wood ticks, also known as American dog ticks, can carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which is occasionally reported in Minnesota. 

With the exception of the relatively new tick-borne disease Powassan, which is caused by a virus, the MDH reports all other of the state’s tick-borne diseases are treatable with antibiotics. 

Recommendations are to remove a tick slowly and steadily. Ticks have barbed mouth parts. Neitzel said if part of the tick remains in the skin it is usually those mouth bits, but they will work themselves out eventually and won’t cause additional disease exposure. Neitzel said the bite site should be cleaned and monitored as it provides an exposure for a secondary infection.

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at or 855-5852.