<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->Ticks are bad this year. This grass along the North Branch Root River could be a prime spot to pick up one or more, especially as it gets taller. The towering bluff, along the river in the Pilot Mound area, was featured on the front of the Bluff Country Newspaper Group's 2012 calendar, in a photo from a canoe. (Bluff Country Reader photo by Lisa Brainard)


Ticks are bad this year. This grass along the North Branch Root River could be a prime spot to pick up one or more, especially as it gets taller. The towering bluff, along the river in the Pilot Mound area, was featured on the front of the Bluff Country Newspaper Group's 2012 calendar, in a photo from a canoe. (Bluff Country Reader photo by Lisa Brainard)
Let's talk about one big issue related to the great outdoors this week.

Since spring came early, you can bet that ticks came extra, extra early. I've been hearing about people having problems with ticks already. Geocachers have been picking them off. One of my rockhounding club buddies even found she had one embedded. And yes, there was a big red welt around it. Luckily her doctor wasted no time in giving her antibiotics, in case it would be Lyme disease.

As she stated, she'll pick ticks off her dogs and might find them on dogs brought to her grooming shop. She's had ticks crawling before and even attached to her skin. But, she'd never had a big red welt. So she took action fast.

Hearing such personal experiences kind of puts a good, healthy fear into a person. It's up to you - and only you! - to make sure you're adequately trying to fend off ticks. (I spray my clothes with permithrin products like Permanone by Repel in a ritual performed outside every two to three weeks). Also check and remove any ticks that have become attached. A well-timed visit to a doctor might be the final step needed.

Dept. of Health warning

Minnesota's unusual stretch of warm weather in late winter and early spring has led to earlier than normal tick activity and a sudden start to the tick-borne disease season. Health officials urge Minnesotans to begin their efforts to protect themselves from ticks and the diseases they carry.

Early melting of Minnesota's already limited snow cover this winter coupled with recent warm temperatures have allowed blacklegged ticks, often called the "deer ticks," to feed across the forested regions of Minnesota. This type of tick carries the agents of several diseases, including Lyme disease, human anaplasmosis, babesiosis, Powassan disease, and a new form of human ehrlichiosis.

Over the last decade, 1,000 to 2,000 or more combined cases of these tick-borne diseases each year have been reported to the Minnesota Department of Health, with these numbers increasing in recent years. The risk for diseases from blacklegged ticks in Minnesota usually starts to rise in late spring and stays elevated until mid-summer, with a smaller peak again in autumn.

Dave Neitzel, an MDH epidemiologist specializing in tick-borne diseases, is concerned because Minnesota has a troubling trend of marked increases in numbers of Lyme disease and other tick-borne disease cases.

Blacklegged ticks carry most of Minnesota's tick-borne diseases. In addition, American dog ticks ("wood ticks"), which are very common in spring and early summer throughout Minnesota, can carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF). While RMSF is most common in the southern United States, a small number of RMSF cases, including one death, have occurred in Minnesotans who did not travel outside the state.

Know the signs

The best way to prevent tick bites is to avoid tick habitat during warm weather months: Wooded or brushy areas for the blacklegged tick and grassy or wooded areas for the American dog tick.

If you can't avoid tick habitat, use repellent to reduce the risk of disease:

• DEET-based repellents (up to 30 percent DEET), which can be applied to clothing or skin for temporary protection.

• Permethrin-based repellents, which are used to pre-treat fabric and can protect against tick bites for at least two weeks without reapplication.

Early detection of tick-borne illness is important to prevent severe complications, so people should seek medical care if they develop an illness suggestive 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, joint pain or swelling and facial droop. These symptoms can also be involved in other diseases, so it is important for a patient's medical provider to consider tick-borne and non-tick-borne causes.

Fatal cases of tick-borne disease occur each year in Minnesota residents. 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, is available by calling MDH at 651-201-5414 and is also on the MDH website, www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/dtopics/tickborne/index.html

Lisa Brainard is the news editor for the Republican-Leader and Chatfield News. She writes for the Phillips Bluff Country Publishing group of newspapers, which also includes the Spring Grove Herald, Bluff Country Reader, News-Record, and Spring Valley Tribune. She can be reached at: lbrainard@bluffcountrynews.com. She also photographs many scenic landscapes in her travels near and far, in addition to taking numerous newspaper photos.