Officials: Climate change, human behavior leading to uptick in tick encounters

Courtesy Photo A tick is shown in this courtesy photo. Officials say an increased number of tick encounters in Michigan are due in part to climate change and changes in human behavior.

ALPENA — The effects of climate change and human behavior have increased run-ins with the tick population in Michigan – especially the Upper Peninsula.

Although ticks are active at a certain temperature, they can survive colder weather by hiding in leaves for warmth during the winter.

Emily Dinh is a medical entomologist for the state. She said ticks can become active at 40 degrees, but they really thrive on humidity.

“I do get reports of finding ticks in the late fall or even in winter,” she said. “And even into I think around Easter time, people coming into contact with ticks.”

Residents of Michigan have been experiencing warmer winters every year. According to the National Weather Service, this year held an average of 30 degrees across the state.

Besides climate change, Dinh said people are more likely to see ticks due to suburban development into forested areas and outdoor activities.

Black legged ticks, also known as deer ticks, can be found in brushy areas with leaf litter where the humidity is higher. Dinh said ticks are susceptible to drying out, that is why they enjoy a humid climate. American Dog ticks also enjoy the humidity; however, they can be found in areas with tall grass.

Dinh said it is not typical to find ticks in exposed sunny or sandy areas.

Within the state, American Dog ticks are the most common. They are about the size of a watermelon seed which makes it easier for people to see and feel, Dinh said. These ticks do not carry Lyme disease, however, still contain Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia, according to the Michigan State University Plant and Pest Diagnostics.

The deer tick is becoming more often encountered throughout the state. Dinh said people still “overwhelmingly” come across American Dog Ticks, but a change is being seen with the rise of deer ticks.

The rise of the deer tick means there are “more dangerous” ticks, Dinh said.

“The black legged tick is the species that transmits Lyme disease, it can transmit other diseases as well that are not as rare,” she said. “But generally, this is the one that we warn people to be on the lookout for. Because this tick, it can bite people in both its immature and adult stages.”

The immature stage of a deer tick is more dangerous because of its poppy seed size. The longer it is attached, the more probable a disease can be transmitted.

Dinh said many people think they haven’t been bitten by a deer tick because they are not able to clearly see it on their body.

Symptoms of a deer tick bite typically happen within a 30-day period, Dinh said. This can vary from person to person. The earliest people can experience symptoms is about a couple days.

Currently there is no vaccine for tick borne diseases, Dinh said. Most of the preventative measures for avoiding tick bites rely on individuals and removing the tick as soon as possible.

Dinh said she advises people to do a thorough tick check whenever visiting an area that potentially contains ticks. People might want a second set of eyes to look over some of the most common areas ticks will latch on to such as armpits, back of the knees, behind ears, belly buttons, hairline. They typically can be found in hidden crevices on the body that have high humidity.

Another way to identify a tick is by feeling around those parts of the body for any hard shell. Dinh said she recommends stripping off your clothes when you get home from a potentially tick infested area and putting them in the dryer on high for 10 minutes – this will kill the ticks.

“The sooner you get the tick off you, you significantly lower your chances of getting whatever disease it may be carried,” she said.

One of the tools utilized to gain an understanding of tick populations is a “tick drag”. This is when someone goes out to a tick habitat with a one-meter cloth they drag behind them. This targets the ticks that are looking for a host to latch on to. Once the tick attaches itself to the cloth, the person dragging the cloth collects the ticks and samples the present diseases as well as any potential unknown diseases.

After the samples have been taken, the ticks are killed.

According to Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services, to safely remove a tick after being bitten, use tweezers as close to the skin as possible and pull it upward without jerking the tweezers. Afterwards use rubbing alcohol on the area and crush the ticks head with tweezers, not fingers.

To learn more about ticks and how to prevent a tick bite, visit the DHHS’s website. (hyperlink — https://www.michigan.gov/mdhhs/safety-injury-prev/environmental-health/topics/mitracking/ticks)


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