Ticks creeping north
Increased risk of lyme disease as insects travel into Northeast Michigan
ALPENA — Residents in Northeast Michigan face an increasing risk for lyme disease as tick populations across the state continue to creep northward in the Lower Peninsula.
Rachel Potter, an epidemiologist with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said the most common tick seen in Michigan is the American dog tick. Potter said the second-most common is the black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick, which can carry the bacteria known cause lyme disease.
“Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease that we see in Michigan, and that’s transmitted by the black-legged tick,” she said.
The tick can also transmit anaplasmosis and bebesiosis, although those diseases are “very rare” in Michigan.
Potter said there were about 300 cases of lyme disease reported in Michigan last year. The disease often presents with flu-like symptoms and is treatable with antibiotics.
Josh Meyerson, medical director for District Health Department No. 4, the health department serving Alpena, Montmorency, Presque Isle and Cheboygan counties, said Alpena County is currently considered a potential risk for the disease.
DHHS has designated the county as a potential risk for the disease, which means black-legged ticks have been found here, but have yet to test positive for the bacteria that causes lyme disease.
Meyerson said that, just to the south, Alcona County is now considered a known risk for lyme disease.
DHHS considers a county a known risk if there have been at least two confirmed exposures to lyme disease or if ticks collected in the county have tested positive for the bacteria.
“If you know the tick and the bacteria that cause lyme disease have been found in Alcona County, there’s certainly the possibility that it could travel up to Alpena,” he said.
Meyerson said ticks don’t migrate themselves. Rather, they attach themselves to a host that can travel, such as a bird.
“Over time, you would expect to see it spread into our area, but, right now, it’s not there, yet — that we know of,” he said.
Because Montmorency and Oscoda counties neighbor Alcona County, DHHS also considers those areas a potential risk for lyme disease. Presque Isle County lacks the tick sampling data for the state to assess its risk for lyme disease.
Potter said officials believe there has been a definite increase in the range of the black-legged tick because they have started finding them in areas where they haven’t seen them before. She said ticks like wooded or grassy areas where they can stay shaded and moist.
The best way to prevent getting a tick stuck on you, according to Meyerson, is to cover up when going outdoors, especially when going through long grasses or shrubs. Insect repellent also helps.
Meyerson added that people should check for ticks after being outdoors and that, if a tick is attached, people should gently remove it with a pair of tweezers by pulling straight up. The tick can then be taken to the local health department for identification, documentation, and testing, he said.
“I think the take-home message for people is I think you should enjoy the great outdoors and get outside, but that there are things you can do to prevent ticks,” he said.
Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or firstname.lastname@example.org.