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Archive for the ‘Wood Ticks’ Category

A Health Epidemic That’s Going Largely Unnoticed

We’re in the midst of a terrifying epidemic, although you wouldn’t know it to talk to most doctors and health specialists.

The disease is growing at a rate faster than AIDS. From 2006 to 2008 alone, the number of cases jumped a whopping 77 percent.  In 2008 alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed 28,921 “confirmed” and 6,277 “probable” cases of the disease, but there could be as many as 420,000 because of underreporting.

Prominent victims include Parker Posey, Richard Gere, President George W. Bush, Alice Walker and Christie Brinkley.

If any other disease had stricken so many people, the medical community would be scurrying for knowledge, scrambling for cures or rushing to warn patients (think swine flu).

But that’s not the case with Lyme disease — a disease carried by ticks.

Instead, ill-informed doctors are often flummoxed when patients complain of fatigue, headaches, fever or chills, muscle or joint pain, mental confusion, swollen lymph nodes and neurological symptoms.  It’s an appalling display of indifference.

As Lyme Disease Awareness Month comes to a close summer travelers flock to grassy, tick-infested holiday spots across America, vacationers and physicians alike need to be on the alert for freckle-sized menaces that are responsible for the fastest-growing, most misdiagnosed infectious disease in the country.  The CDC has a map that shows where the ticks are most prevalent.

Unfortunately, many victims of this poppy-seed-sized predator spend months or years without effective treatment, because perplexed doctors wrongly diagnose chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, lupus, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, arthritis or psychiatric disorders.

Nature lovers need to be vigilant whenever we bike or hike near fields, wooded areas or trails. (For instance, always wear white socks; don caps to cover my thick, curly hair; never sit on grass anymore; and wash my workout clothes after coming home.)

Each of us needs to inspect our bodies for tiny, black intruders and tweeze them out before they have time to infect us with any number of diseases.

To reduce the ick factor, we can give this health-wise precaution a romantic twist, as Brad Paisley humorously suggests in his song “Ticks”: “I’d like to walk you through a field of wildflowers, and I’d like to check you for ticks.”

But more important is the need for public health community to treat this disease like the epidemic it is, and start putting real resources into educating the public and the medical profession about how to identify it, treat it, and prevent it.

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Controlling Ticks In Minnesota

High risk areas for tick exposure in Minnesota include the north central, east-central and southeastern regions of the state, also extending into some northwestern counties.  Greatest risk is found within hardwood or mixed hardwood forests, which provide suitable habitat for blacklegged ticks.  Risk of bites from these ticks in Minnesota is highest during the spring, early summer, and fall months.

Lyme Disease Statistics In Minnesota

From 1986 to 2008, more than 11,000 cases of tick-borne diseases were reported in Minnesota, of which the majority (more than 9,700 cases) were Lyme disease.  One thousand fifty confirmed Lyme disease cases were reported in 2008. A record number of 1,239 confirmed Lyme disease cases were reported in 2007, and near-record numbers of Lyme disease cases were reported in 2004 (1,023 cases), 2005 (917 cases) and 2006 (913 cases).

The number of Lyme disease cases has been increasing dramatically since the 1990s. A variety of factors, including increasing physician awareness, increasing infection rates in ticks, and expanding tick distribution may have led to this trend.
The risk of exposure to tick-borne diseases in Minnesota is highest in the shaded areas

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High Risk Areas for Tick-borne Diseases in Minnesota (PDF: 43KB/1 page)

The Lyme disease cases in 2008 ranged in age from infants to 95 years; the median age was 40 years. Thirty-two percent of Lyme disease patients in 2008 were under 18 years of age. In 2008, 64% of Lyme disease cases were male.

Exposure to blacklegged ticks (deer ticks) and Lyme disease in Minnesota occurs primarily from May to July, and again in the autumn, when people are outdoors and ticks are actively feeding.

The majority of cases occur in June, July, and August, peaking just after the mid-May to mid-July period when the nymphal deer tick is feeding. This lag is due to the 3-30 day period between an infected tick bite and the start of signs and symptoms.

If you ever have any doubt as to which tick you have encountered, contact a pest control expert for identification.

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Controlling Ticks In Minnesota


The blacklegged tick, I. scapularis, is the vector of Lyme disease, human anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and Powassan encephalitis.

You can generally recognize an unengorged adult female blacklegged tick from its black legs and scutum (the area behind the head) and its orange to reddish body.  It is about 1/10 inch long or generally smaller than the American dog tick (commonly referred to as wood tick), and it has long mouthparts.  An adult male is about 1/16 inch long and dark brown.  Adult males attach but do not feed.  Nymphal deer ticks are a bit larger than a poppy seed and are dark and teardrop-shaped.

Identifying ticks based solely on size and color is often challenging, especially when you encounter immature and/or ticks filled with blood.  It is important to know what species of tick has bitten you as the American dog tick and other ticks are not known to transmit any diseases in Minnesota.  If you ever have any doubt as to which tick you have encountered, contact a pest control expert for identification.

The life cycle of a blacklegged tick generally takes two to three years in Minnesota.  Eggs are deposited by adult females during the spring, which hatch a month later into six-legged, pinhead-sized larvae.  The larvae feed once on the blood of host animals, such as a white-footed mouse, during summer, taking about three to five days to complete their blood meal.  Lyme disease, human anaplasmosis, and babesiosis are not passed on to the larvae by infected adult females so they can only acquire any of these diseases by feeding on infected hosts.  Powassan virus, however, can be passed from the female tick to her offspring, and are therefore a potential source of infection..  After feeding, larvae molt to eight-legged nymphs, the second immature stage, which overwinter until the following spring.

During the late spring and early summer, these nymphs feed on host animals, staying attached for about three to five days.  They also prefer white-footed mice, the primary source of disease infection, but will also feed on a variety of animals, including humans and dogs.  Nymphs are very small, about the size of a poppy seed.  The nymphs then molt into adults.  Adult females feed either during the fall or the following spring, staying attached for about five to seven days when taking a blood meal.  Adults are active outdoors even at temperatures as low as the mid to upper 30’so F but tend to be most active in warmer temperatures.

A blacklegged tick can only transmit disease to humans through a bite.  They cannot do so by just crawling on a person.  Even when biting, a blacklegged tick must stay attached for at least 12-24 hours (in the case of human anaplasmosis) or at least 24-48 hours (in the case of Lyme disease) before it is able to transmit disease..  Only nymphal and adult female blacklegged ticks transmit these diseases.  The exception to this rule is Powassan virus which can be transmitted all tick stages (larvae, nymphs and adults) within minutes following tick attachment.

If you ever have any doubt as to which tick you have encountered, contact a pest control expert for identification.

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Controlling Ticks In Minnesota

There are thirteen known species of ticks in Minnesota.  The majority of these species are known as hard ticks, because they have a relatively hard body and possess a plate-like shield, or scutum (fig. 1), behind the head.  Of these, three kinds are commonly encountered by humans:

1) American dog tick, also called wood tick
2) Blacklegged tick, formerly called deer tick, and
3) Brown dog tick

Occasionally, people may encounter soft ticks (fig. 2) which have a more leathery body and lack a scutum behind the head.  When looking at a soft tick from above, the head is typically hidden from view.  In homes, soft ticks are usually associated with bats.

Identification Of Ticks

Minnesota provides suitable habitat for several tick species.  Ticks can be very challenging to identify.  Color is sometimes helpful in distinguishing tick species but you can not rely on this in all situations.  While there are differences in size between ticks, size is also not a reliable method as there is much overlap between species, especially when immature and adult ticks are encountered.  Also remember that adult males are smaller compared to females.  Engorged ticks are particularly challenging to identify as their size and color are greatly altered.  You can distinguish between females and males in the adult stage as females possess a relatively small scutum while this plate-like structure in males covers most of their body (fig. 1).  If there is ever any doubt as to what species of tick you have encountered, contact an expert for identification.

Living in habitats of ticks can mean a higher chance of these pests.  If you live in this type of area, or are noticing an increase in the amount of ticks in your area, it is wise to contact a professional pest control expert.

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Ticks The Season In Minnesota

1282 cases of Lyme Disease (LD) were reported to the Minnesota Department of Health in 2008, a 450% increase in 10 years, ranking Minnesota 8th in terms of total cases in the United States

With the blossoming of spring comes the growing number by the thousands of cases of Lyme disease silently striking down adults, children and pets across the country.

The CDC (in the US) reported over 64,000 cases of Lyme disease in a two year span, but actual cases in the following years continue to climb much higher.  One report recently found that 48% of residents had at least one family member with a current or past history of treatment for Lyme Disease.

Where is Lyme Disease found?

Lyme Disease can occur anywhere, however the states with the highest incidence are:

  • Connecticut (with the highest rate in the nation)
  • Delaware
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Wisconsin

1282 cases of Lyme Disease (LD) were reported to the Minnesota Department of Health in 2008, a 450% increase in 10 years, ranking Minnesota 8th in terms of total cases in the United States

The deer tick (Ixodes scapularis) goes through three life stages.  Shown from left to right is the adult female, adult male, nymph and larva on a centimeter scale.

1282 cases of Lyme Disease (LD) were reported to the Minnesota Department of Health in 2008, a 450% increase in 10 years, ranking Minnesota 8th in terms of total cases in the United States

Living in habitats of ticks can mean a higher chance of these pests.  If you live in this type of area, or are noticing an increase in the amount of ticks in your area, it is wise to contact a professional pest control company.

Photo courtesy of Mayo Clinic

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