News release: Pack the insect repellent to fend off ticks this Memorial Day Weekend

News Release
May 19, 2015

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Pack the insect repellent to fend off ticks this Memorial Day Weekend

Now through mid-July is highest risk period for Lyme, other diseases carried by Minnesota ticks

If your Memorial Day Weekend plans include walks through wooded or brushy areas, make sure you pack the insect repellent – and use it – to ward off tick bites.

Health officials warn that blacklegged ticks (also known as deer ticks) like to hang out in many of the same places as Minnesotans this time of year. Using insect repellent and taking other precautions can help reduce your risk of getting one or more of several serious diseases carried by ticks. 

Mid-May through mid-July is the period of highest risk for blacklegged ticks in Minnesota. Memorial Day weekend is often the first time of year when large numbers of Minnesota residents venture into tick habitat, those brushy or wooded areas of southeastern, central and north-central Minnesota.  Recent field sampling by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) found that the immature blacklegged ticks (called nymphs) are out now and will likely become even more active in the next few weeks.  

The blacklegged tick can spread Lyme disease, as well as anaplasmosis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, and Powassan disease. In 2014, 896 Lyme disease cases were reported in the state, along with 448 human anaplasmosis cases and 49 babesiosis cases. The number of cases of tick-transmitted diseases for previous years can be found on the MDH website.

American dog ticks (“wood ticks”), which are very common in spring and early summer throughout wooded or grassy areas of Minnesota, can also carry diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF). While RMSF is most common in the southern United States, a small number of RMSF cases have occurred in Minnesotans who did not travel outside the state.

“Any of these diseases can make people very ill and can have serious complications, so it’s important to take steps to prevent them,” said David Neitzel, a tick-borne disease specialist with MDH.

Though blacklegged tick nymphs are much smaller than adults – they are about the size of a poppy seed – they can carry as many diseases as the adults. They can be difficult to see or feel, so it is especially important to use insect repellent to keep them from biting.

Know when you are in tick habitat; this is when it is most important to take precautions: 

  • Wooded or brushy areas for the blacklegged tick.
  • Grassy or wooded areas for the American dog tick.

If you spend time outdoors in tick habitat, use repellent to lower the risk of disease:

  • DEET-based repellents (up to 30 percent DEET) can be applied to clothing or skin.
  • Pre-treating fabric with permethrin-based repellents can protect against tick bites for at least two weeks without reapplication. This is an excellent option for people who frequently venture into wooded areas.

People who spend time at cabins on heavily wooded property often encounter ticks and should consider managing their landscape to reduce their risk. Consider the following strategies:

  • Keep lawns and trails mowed short.
  • Remove leaves and brush.
  • Create a landscape barrier of wood chips or rocks between mowed lawns and woods.
  • Apply pesticide treatments in the spring or early summer along the edges of wooded yards and trails; follow pesticide label instructions carefully.

Perform tick checks during and after outdoor activities in tick habitat. Frequently search your entire body for ticks that may look like a speck of dirt or freckle on your skin.  If you find a tick on you, remove it immediately but properly. Tips and a short video on how to safely remove attached ticks can be found at: Preventing Tick-borne Disease: Tick Removal.

Early detection of tick-borne illness is important to prevent potentially severe complications. Seek medical care if you develop symptoms that could be indicators of a tick-borne disease after spending time in tick habitat. Signs and symptoms of the various tick-borne diseases can include, but are not limited to, rash, fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, and joint pain or swelling. These symptoms can be associated with other diseases, so it is important to mention possible tick exposures or time spent in tick habitat to your medical provider. Except for Powassan disease, which is caused by a virus, all of Minnesota's tick-borne diseases are treatable with antibiotics.

More information about Minnesota's tick-borne diseases, including signs, symptoms, and prevention (including a short video on how to use tick repellents), is available at Tick-Transmitted Diseases or by calling MDH at 651-201-5414.


Media inquiries:

Doug Schultz
MDH Communications