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DNR Report: Tick-borne disease risk remains high

Last winter’s heavy snowfall across Minnesota likely helped the survival of ticks that can carry disease, prompting state health officials last week to urge precautions against tick bites.

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Minnesota’s blacklegged ticks, also called deer ticks, were likely insulated from cold winter temperatures by deep snow in the wooded and brushy areas where the ticks are found, said David Neitzel, a tick-borne disease specialist with the Minnesota Department of Health.

“We are currently finding large numbers of the adult blacklegged ticks at central and southeastern Minnesota field study locations and expect the immature nymph stage of the tick to become active very soon,” Neitzel said.

The highest risk for exposure to disease-carrying ticks is typically from mid-May through mid-July when these small and hard to detect nymphs are active.

“We expect that tick-transmitted disease risk will be high again this year, including in those places that are historically high risk,” Neitzel said.

Those areas include wooded or brushy habitats in southeastern, central and north central Minnesota.

In 2013, a record 1,431 Lyme disease cases were reported in Minnesota residents. In addition, cases of human anaplasmosis and babesiosis were also high at 627 and 64, respectively.

Besides these three commonly reported diseases, blacklegged ticks carry the agents for Powassan disease and a new form of human ehrlichiosis. American dog ticks, commonly known as wood ticks, are very common in spring and early summer throughout Minnesota.

They can carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF). While RMSF is most common in the southern United States, a small number of RMSF cases have occurred in Minnesotans who did not travel outside the state.

Early detection of tick-borne illness is important to prevent potentially severe complications, so people should seek medical care if they develop symptoms that could be 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, fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, and joint pain or swelling. These symptoms can be associated with other diseases, so it is important for patients to mention possible tick exposures or time spent in tick habitat to their medical provider.

Except for Powassan disease, which is caused by a virus, all of Minnesota’s tick-borne diseases are treatable with antibiotics.