The summer of the ticks | The ticker


“Dozens of ticks.” According to Scott Tucker, director of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, this is what his employees were doing every day this spring. His observation agrees with predictions: There has been a lot of talk for months – both in northern Michigan and beyond – about 2021 as an unusually heavy tick season. And while tick prevalence has increased across the state in recent years, Tucker has been proven to look worse in 2021 than anything else in the recent past.

“We haven’t thrown any science [at the tick issue] to try to quantify their increased occurrence, ”says Tucker. “But in general, park workers find ticks much more often than in previous years. And so is the public, at least those who tell us about it. Our field staff – the professional outdoor people – pull dozens of ticks off every day in the field. So there are definitely more ticks this year than in previous years. “

What is causing the problem? On the one hand, it is the continuation of a trend. The Division of Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases of the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDDHS) recently published a report tick and tick-borne diseases between 2016 and 2020. According to this report, Lyme disease cases in Michigan effectively doubled between 2016 (when there were approximately 225 human cases) and 2020 (when there were over 450). These increases have occurred “as tick populations have spread across the state,” with the black-legged tick – the species that spreads Lyme disease – now found in most of upper and lower Michigan. Between 2017 and 2019, ticks from several counties in northern Michigan – including Leelanau, Benzie, Manistee and Charlevoix – tested positive for the bacteria that cause Lyme disease.

But why are tick populations growing at all? Grand Traverse County’s Department of Health (GTCHD) director of environmental health, Brent Wheat, said climate change is the number one public enemy for most experts.

“Warmer temperatures can lead to this,” says Wheat of the growing population. “Perhaps it is an unusually warm summer or autumn when reproduction peaks.”

MDDHS also notes that black-legged ticks in Michigan are “active anytime when outside temperatures are above 40 degrees Fahrenheit,” meaning that warmer and milder weather in fall, winter, and spring can cause ticks to be present for a greater percentage of the time Calendar are active – so more people bite and spread more diseases.

For his part, Tucker confirms that the warm April weather this spring meant that the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore “started tick season a little earlier this year.”

Other factors could also contribute to the increase in ticks in Michigan. Wheat indicates increasing deer populations in Michigan as deer are a common host animal for ticks throughout their life cycle. Meanwhile, Shelly Stusick of the Northwest Michigan Invasive Species Network says Michigan residents should be aware of the risk posed by Japanese barberry, an invasive flowering plant that was originally introduced to the area as an ornamental but later spread in the wild . If the plant spreads unhindered, it can harbor significantly more ticks than areas with controlled or no barberry.

“Many of the invasive ornamental species in our region were introduced many years ago because it was a novelty,” explains Stusick. “There was a study from the University of Connecticut that suggested treating Japanese barberry reduced the incidence of black-legged ticks and, therefore, the rate of infection.” While dense stands are the most challenging, birds can also pick berries from individual shrubs in yards and take them to other areas where they can eventually spread and harbor ticks.

These dense stands provide a warm and humid environment that is “preferred by black-legged ticks and the white-footed mouse, the main vector of the tick,” says Stusick. The Invasive Species Network will be offering soon a couple of “trade-up days” specifically aimed at getting local property owners to trade in their invasive barberry plants in exchange for coupons “good for a non-invasive alternative”.

The good news is that not all ticks pose the same risk. The most common species in Michigan is actually the American dog tick (also known as the wood tick), which, according to the MDDHS, “very rarely spreads disease”. These ticks are also usually the ones GTCHD sees the most often. Last year, Wheat estimated that the health department “likely identified around 30 ticks” in local residents, with the vast majority being dog ticks. “For the last three years we’ve identified ticks, we’ve only had one black-legged tick that we’ve identified,” he says.

Still, Wheat and Tucker both say that locals should use caution when exploring hiking trails or venturing into wooded areas. This can mean wearing long pants and high socks, using insect repellant with DEET, avoiding areas with lots of brush or tall grass, and checking yourself (and children or pets) for ticks after outdoor activities.

According to Tucker, Sleeping Bear Dunes employees have built tick awareness posts on social media and posted “tick cards” at all entry points to share tips on how to reduce the risk. Thanks to a donation this week from Friends of Sleeping Bear Dunes, the park will soon have “tick removal devices for every Lakeshore employee” this summer.

As for treating tick bites, if they occur, the first recommended step is usually to remove the tick with tweezers and place it in a Ziploc bag or other sealed container. GTCHD can help identify these ticks, which can be dropped off at 2650 LaFranier Road. Local residents can call 231-995-6051 for guidance or help.

A visit to the doctor is also always appropriate, says Weizen, even if the tick was only briefly on the skin or did not look like a black-legged variety.

“All types of ticks can transmit diseases,” he explains. “That doesn’t mean they will always pass disease on to you, but they can. So if you have a tick, we recommend that you consult your doctor in the first place. “


About Clayton Arredondo

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