Ticks and Prevention of Tick-Borne Illnesses in Minnesota

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Minnesota has the dubious distinction of being one of the top 10 states for cases of tick-borne illnesses. Tick-borne infections in the state numbered 26,886 between 2004 and 2016.

A variety of serious diseases are transmitted by ticks in Minnesota. Here’s what you need to know to keep your family safe from tick bites this summer.

Minnesota Is a High-Risk State

A majority of the state’s counties are considered high-risk areas for acquiring tick-borne diseases. Most of the high-risk counties are located in the northern half and easternmost areas of Minnesota.

Wright County is considered a moderate-risk county. However, the county is adjacent to Stearns and Sherburne counties, which both pose a high risk of ticks carrying human diseases.

Families should take precautions wherever they engage in outdoor activities in Minnesota. The state is home to a dozen types of ticks, although not all of the native ticks are vectors for disease. The blacklegged tick causes the most tick-borne sickness in the state.

Ticks Transmit a Variety of Diseases

Lyme disease is the most prevalent disease transmitted by ticks in Minnesota. This bacterial infection is caused by a microorganism called Borrelia burgdorferi. A related bacteria, Borrelia mayonii, can be transmitted by ticks and cause a disease similar to Lyme disease.

Other tick-borne diseases that affect Minnesota include:

  • Anaplasmosis
  • Babesios
  • Borrelia miyamotol disease
  • Ehrichiosis
  • Powassan virus disease
  • Tularemia

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF) is rarely observed in Minnesota, but it can also be acquired after bites from American dog ticks (also known as deer ticks.) Symptoms of RMSF include fever, headache, and stomach upset. A rash eventually develops but may not be present at the onset of the disease.

Removal of Ticks Can Limit Disease Exposure

Some tick-borne diseases including anaplasmosis may be spread soon after an infected tick bite. To transmit Lyme disease, a tick must remain attached for 24 to 48 hours. Removing ticks promptly is an important step to reduce the risks of becoming infected with a tick-borne disease.

If you find a tick attached to yourself or a family member, follow these three steps to remove the tick:

  1. Use tweezers to grasp the tick by the head next to your skin.
  2. Pull gently but steadily outward until the tick is unattached.
  3. Wash the area thoroughly with soap and water.

If you or a family member begins to feel ill after a tick bite, schedule an appointment with your health care provider. You’ll be examined for signs of the disease.

Tests are available for some tick-borne diseases, but not all tests are conclusive or reliable. New tests are being developed to test for more than one tick-borne disease with the same sample.

Prevention of Tick Bites Is Key to Avoiding Disease

Take precautions each time you venture outdoors from spring to fall. Wear white or light-colored clothing so you can spot ticks that have landed on your apparel. Use biting-insect repellents that are registered with the EPA to ensure your products actually repel ticks.

If you choose to use products containing the insect repellent DEET, make sure the concentration of DEET is no higher than 30 percent for adults and children. Infants under two months of age should not have DEET-based products applied to skin or clothing.

Tick-repelling products containing permethrin are recommended for people who frequent wooded areas. Permethrin-based tick repellents should not be applied directly on the skin.

Spray or apply permethrin products on:

  • Backpacks and gear
  • Shoes
  • Socks
  • Clothing
  • Hats
  • Outerwear

Reduce your yard’s attractiveness to ticks by keeping grass and property trails mowed short. Clear away leaves and brush that can harbor ticks. Children’s play equipment should be situated in a dry, sunny area to keep ticks away.

Thorough Checks for Ticks Reduce Illness Risks

After spending time outdoors, family members should check each other for the presence of ticks. Remember that some ticks can be as small as a speck of dirt. Use a magnifying glass to go over areas of the body with freckles and moles, as the smallest ticks can appear like normal skin features.

Clothes and gear can harbor ticks after you remove the items from your person. To kill any ticks hiding in dry fabric, throw the items in a dryer set to high heat for at least 10 minutes.

Ticks can live through a cold or warm wash cycle, so dry these clothes for a longer period. If your dryer is set to high heat, dry damp or washed clothes for at least an hour. If you use the low-heat setting to dry damp or freshly washed clothes, let the dryer run for at least 1 and ½ hours.

If you’re alone after a walk in the woods or a romp with your dog in the backyard, use mirrors to check your back and other areas of your body where ticks may hide. Shower or bathe as soon as possible to help spot and wash away ticks.

If you or a family member has been bitten by a tick, contact Stellis Health at one of our three convenient Minnesota medical clinics. We diagnose and treat rashes and other symptoms of tick-borne illnesses.