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Protecting Yourself from Tickborne Diseases

Published in For the Health of It Author: Kelsie Rustad,PA-C

As warmer weather brings us outdoors, it’s important to be mindful of the potential risks posed by ticks. This year, thanks to the mild winter and less snow, ticks are making an early appearance.

While there are approximately a dozen tick species in Minnesota, the two most common types are the Blacklegged tick (also known as the deer tick) and the American dog tick (also known as the wood tick). Although both species can potentially transmit diseases, deer ticks are more concerning because they are often infected with the bacteria that cause Lyme disease.

Most cases of tickborne disease are caused by young ticks called nymphs, which can be as small as the size of a freckle or a speck of dirt, and generally feed from May through July. Nymphs are considered more of a disease risk because they’re smaller and hard to notice, so they often remain attached and feed for longer.

Here are tips to help you stay safe and enjoy your time outdoors this season.

Awareness is key. Knowing where ticks are commonly found can help you take precautions. Ticks thrive in wooded areas, tall grasses, and leaf litter, so be extra aware when hiking, camping, or spending time in these environments. Wearing long sleeves, pants tucked into your socks, and using insect repellents containing DEET on your skin or permethrin applied to your clothes can reduce your risk of tick bites.

Regular tick checks are important. After spending time outdoors, thoroughly inspect your body and clothing for any ticks. Pay close attention to areas like behind the knees, underarms, around the waist and belly button, the ears, and your scalp, hair, and neckline. Remember that ticks can be as small as a poppy seed.

If you find a tick attached to your skin, don’t panic. Use tweezers to grasp the tick’s head and pull slowly and steadily. Don’t worry if pieces of the mouth or head break off, they will work their way out like a sliver. Clean the area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. Take a bath or shower to wash any possible loose ticks from your body and wash your clothes and dry them on high heat to kill any ticks that might remain.

It’s important to know what symptoms to look for. Not all ticks carry disease, and not all bites from infected ticks will result in disease. Lyme disease is the most reported tickborne disease in Minnesota. The longer ticks are attached, the greater the risk for developing Lyme or other tick-transmitted diseases.

Early symptoms usually appear within 30 days of being infected and may include rash, fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, tiredness, or weakness. Other diseases may cause similar symptoms. Contact your clinic if you think you may have a tickborne disease.

By staying informed and taking proactive steps to protect yourself and loved ones from tick bites, you can enjoy all that Minnesota’s outdoors has to offer with peace of mind.