Just as Minnesota heads outdoors this weekend to kick off summer, news comes that bloodthirsty creatures are out there lurking, waiting for their next meal.
Welcome to tick season.
“The ticks are definitely out there,” said Elizabeth Schiffman, senior epidemiologist at the Minnesota Department of Health. “We say anytime there’s no snow on the ground, it’s fair game for ticks.”
The prime season is usually mid-May to June. As in now.
It’s difficult to predict how bad the season will be, but Schiffman and other experts walking in the woods say so far it appears to be an average season for the creepy crawlers that attach their mouth parts to their hosts — human and otherwise — and gorge on blood. Depending on the tick, it could also transmit disease.
Black-legged ticks, commonly called deer ticks, are the main disease transmitters in Minnesota, Schiffman said. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state had the seventh highest tally in the U.S. for tick-borne infections between 2004 and 2016.
The overall rising trend in tick-borne diseases may be in part because there’s more awareness about them and more people are being tested, Schiffman said. But it also could be that as ticks expand their territory, it’s easier for people to pick them up. People should take precautions to prevent them from attaching, she said.
Deer ticks, which can transmit Lyme disease, often are found in wooded and brushy areas but are prone to drying out when it’s hot and dry, Schiffman said. They generally hang out in the leaf litter on the forest floor, climbing up and down vegetation within a foot of the ground.
Over the past 20 years, ticks have expanded their territory in the state. In the 1990s, the hot spots for tick-borne diseases were in north-central Minnesota, including Crow Wing, Cass and Aitkin counties.
“Now we’re finding more ticks north and west than ever before,” Schiffman said. The open areas and farm country in the southwest part of the state are generally low-risk areas.
Even so, it just takes one deer tick with Lyme disease to become a problem, said Jeff Hahn, an entomologist at the University of Minnesota Extension office.
That’s why it’s important to correctly determine whether the biting tick is a black-legged one or the American dog tick, commonly called a wood tick. Wood ticks aren’t major transmitters of disease, Hahn said. He said a deer tick has to be attached for a minimum 24 to 36 hours to transmit disease.
“If it’s just crawling on you, it’s not an issue,” Hahn said.
Besides ticks, those venturing outdoors also may have to ward off attacks by black flies, midges and mosquitoes.
Prime mosquito time generally is May, June and July, Hahn said. Whether there will be hordes of mosquitoes will depend on the rainfall.
“We’ll see mosquitoes regardless,” he said. “If it stays dry, you won’t see as many as when it’s wet.”