There's an upsurge of ticks in Michigan. Here's what you can do about it.

Infected ticks are spreading across several portions of the Lower Peninsula.

Photo of Angela Mulka

Tick season is here and bug experts in Michigan are urging people to stay protected, this year more than ever, as there’s an increase in ticks in the Lower Peninsula.

“Ticks, in at least the Lower Peninsula, have been on the increase over the last 10 to 15 years,” said Howard Russell, entymologist with the Department of Plant, Soil and Microbial Sciences at Michigan State University.

“They’re worse than they were last year, and, I think next year, they’ll be even worse than what they are this year.”

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, in particular, the western part, has always had a high number of ticks due to its close proximity to Wisconsin, according to Russell.

However, the Lower Peninsula is a different story.

“We started seeing deer ticks (black-legged ticks) at the very southwest corner of the Lower Peninsula, maybe 10 years ago, and we tracked them all the way up the west coast of Michigan,” Russell said. “From there, they spread inland and across the state. Now, they have been found in most counties in the Lower Peninsula. Looking back 20 years ago, I had very few people contact me regarding ticks. And, in talking to some vets, they said that 15 years ago they rarely prescribed tick prevention medicine for dogs. Now, both instances are routine.”

Michigan is home to five types of ticks, with two being the most likely to bite humans: The American dog tick and black-legged tick, which is also known as the deer tick. The ticks we need to be cautious of are the black-legged ticks. They are the ones that can transmit Lyme disease.

And, with the increase of ticks, tick-borne diseases, particularly Lyme disease, is increasing statewide, according to a press release issued by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services.

A recently released estimate based on insurance records suggests that each year approximately 476,000 Americans are diagnosed and treated for Lyme disease. It’s important to note that the number is likely an overestimate of actual infection because patients are sometimes treated presumptively in medical practice.

Got a tick? Submit a picture to Russell for identification.

Howard Russell, Entomologist, specializing in diagnostic services

Email: bugman@msu.edu

Phone: (517)-353-9386

"People can send me a picture of the back of the tick, and in a lot of cases I can tell them what the tick is just based on a photograph. If it's something I would need to look at, I'll email them instructions on how to submit the tick for identification in the lab."

Regardless, this number indicates a burden on the healthcare system and the need for more effective prevention measures.

“Preventing tick bites is the best way to prevent tick-borne diseases, including Lyme disease and anaplasmosis. If you find a tick attached to your body, promptly remove it. Monitor your health and if you experience fever, rash, muscle or joint aches or other symptoms, consult with your medical provider,” said Mary Grace Stobierski, Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Emerging & Zoonotic Infectious Diseases manager.

Protect yourself and your family against tick-borne diseases by following these tips laid out by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services:

Avoid tick-infested areas
•    As ticks live in grassy, brushy and wooded areas, walk in the center of trails to avoid contact with overgrown grass, brush and leaf litter at trail edges.
•    Protect your pets – dogs and cats can come into contact with ticks outdoors and bring them into the home. Talk with your veterinarian about the best tick prevention products for your pet.
Use insect repellent:
•    Apply repellent containing DEET or Picaridin on exposed skin.
•    Treat clothes (especially pants, socks and shoes) with permethrin, which kills ticks on contact or buy clothes that are pre-treated. Do not use permethrin directly on skin.
Perform daily tick checks:
•    Always check for ticks on yourself and your animals after being outdoors, even in your own yard.
•    Inspect all body surfaces carefully and remove attached ticks with tweezers.
•    To remove a tick, grasp the tick firmly and as closely to the skin as possible. With a steady motion, pull the tick’s body away from the skin. Cleanse the area with an antiseptic.
Bathe or shower:
•    Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.
•    Wash clothing in hot water and dry on high heat to help kill ticks in clothing.

The good news is that Lyme disease is easily treated, if it’s caught early. It’s a pretty serious disease if left untreated and the longer it is untreated the more difficult it will be to treat, according to Russell.

Information about Lyme disease risk by county is available at Michigan.gov/lyme.

“Because the disease pathogen that causes Lyme disease resides fairly deep in the digestive tract of the black-legged tick, it takes up to 48 hours for that pathogen to move through the digestive tract, through the mouth parts and into the wound where it is transmissible,” Russell said. “That’s why tick inspections are important. If you can remove it within 48 hours, you’ve greatly reduced your chances of getting Lyme disease.”

Luckily, Michigan is still considered a “low incidence” area for Lyme disease, compared to states with similar climates, like Minnesota and Wisconsin, that are considered “high incidence” places, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“A lot of states could lay claim to having the highest number of ticks, like Minnesota and Wisconsin,” Russell said. “We’re just coming up to their speed in terms of tick numbers. We have a long way to go before we’re up there as the state with the most ticks.”

Visit here for additional information on ticks and how to prevent and remove them. And, to learn more about Lyme disease, visit cdc.gov/lyme.