Beware: In Minnesota, ticks are lying in wait for you

May 25, 2018

Just as Minnesota heads outdoors this weekend to kick off summer, news comes that bloodthirsty creatures are out there lurking, waiting for their next blood meal.

Welcome to tick season.

The ticks are definitely out there, said Elizabeth Schiffman, epidemiologist at Minnesota Department of Health. We say anytime theres no snow on the ground, its fair game for ticks.

The prime season is usually mid-May to June. As in now.

Its difficult to predict how bad the season will be, but Schiffman and other experts walking in the woods say so far it appears to be an average season for the creepy crawlers that attach their mouthparts and gorge on blood. And depending on the tick, it could also transmit disease. People should take precautions to prevent them from attaching, or removing them before they do.

Black-legged ticks, commonly called deer ticks, are the main disease transmitters in Minnesota, Schiffman said. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state had the seventh highest tally in the U.S. for tick-borne infections.

The overall rising trend in tick-borne diseases may be in part because theres more awareness about them and more people are being tested, Schiffman said. But it also could be that as ticks expand their territory, its easier for people to pick them up, she said.

Deer ticks, which can transmit Lyme disease, often are found in wooded and brushy areas but theyre prone to drying out when its hot and dry, Schiffman said. They generally hang out in the leaf litter on the forest floor, climbing up and down vegetation within a foot of the ground, she explained.

Ticks taking off

Over the past 20 years, ticks have expanded their territory in Minnesota. In the 1990s, the hot spots for tick-borne diseases were in north central Minnesota, including Crow Wing, Cass and Aitkin counties.

Now were finding more ticks north and west than ever before, Schiffman said. The open areas and farm country in the southwest part of the state are generally low-risk areas.

Rainfall in the south central and southeastern part of the state has made it easy to find ticks, Schiffman said. But they havent been as obvious in the northern half of the state where theres been less rain, she said.

Even so, it just takes one deer tick with Lyme disease to become a problem, said Jeff Hahn, entomologist at the University of Minnesota Extension office.

Thats why its important to correctly determine whether the biting tick is a black-legged one or the American dog tick, commonly called a wood tick. Wood ticks arent important transmitters of disease, Hahn said. If theres any doubt, have an expert identify the bug, he said. He noted that the deer tick has to be attached for a minimum 24 to 36 hours to transmit disease.

If its just crawling on you, its not an issue, Hahn said.

Not just ticks, you know

Besides ticks, those venturing outdoors also may have to ward off attacks by black flies, midges and mosquitoes.

Prime mosquito time generally is May, June and July, Hahn said. Whether there will be hordes of mosquitoes will depend on the weather.

Well see mosquitoes regardless, he said. But their abundance will be tied to rainfall. If it stays dry, you wont see as many as when its wet.

Mary Lynn Smith 612-673-4788