State urges precautions now that tick season is starting
A record number of Minnesotans became ill from tick-borne diseases in 2010, the Minnesota Department of Health said Friday. And now that tick season has returned, health officials are urging people to take extra precautions in wooded areas.
Last year, 1,293 cases of Lyme disease were reported in Minnesota, a jump of 21 percent over 2009.
In addition, 720 people were sickened by human anaplasmosis, also spread by deer ticks. That was more than double the usual number, officials said. Almost a third of the patients were hospitalized, and one died, the Health Department said.
Another patient died of a third tick infection, called babesiosis, which also saw a spike in cases, from 31 in 2009 to 56 last year.
Dave Neitzel, a Health Department official, called it a troubling trend.
"We are particularly concerned about anaplasmosis, with case numbers now rivaling Lyme disease in some areas of the state," Neitzel said in a news release. Last year, there were more cases of anaplasmosis than Lyme disease in a half dozen Minnesota counties: Aitkin, Beltrami, Carlton, Cass, Crow Wing and Hubbard.
Not all tick infections are severe, but the most serious cases can cause swelling of the brain, organ failure and death. More common symptoms include rash, fever, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, joint pain and swelling.
Dr. Ruth Lynfield, the state epidemiologist, said tick-borne diseases are "reaching epidemic levels in some areas."
The best way to prevent tick bites is to avoid wooded or brushy areas, where deer ticks flourish, officials said.
But they admit that can be a challenge in Minnesota, especially for people with homes or cabins in heavily wooded areas.
Among their suggestions:
• Use insect repellent, with up to 30 percent DEET, on skin or clothes.
• Use landscaping techniques to reduce tick exposure: keep lawns mowed short, remove leaves and brush, create a barrier of wood chips or rocks between mowed lawns and woods.
The risk of exposure is highest from late spring through mid-summer, when ticks are most active, the Health Department said.
More information is available at: www startribune.com/a382 Maura Lerner • 612-673-7384