DETROIT LAKES, Minn. — People who are spending more time outdoors while the coronavirus pandemic plays out should be aware that the ticks are out now, too.

And remember that those little bugs — though they’re not getting as much attention as the COVID-19 bug — carry serious health risks.

Ticks, especially blacklegged ticks (otherwise known as deer ticks), can spread a number of diseases to people and animals, most commonly Lyme and Anaplasmosis. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, Becker County is a high-risk county for tickborne diseases, so residents need to be especially careful.

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"It goes without saying that this is a sensitive and uncertain time not only across our country, but across the globe," Cindy Mannes, vice president of public affairs at the National Pest Management Association, said in a news release. "With people spending more time in their homes and yards, they may be surprised at how much pest activity they begin to notice. Unfortunately, pest pressure and populations won’t slow down this time of year and it’s important to stay vigilant."

Tick populations are projected to be above average this year in most parts of the country, including the Midwest and North Central U.S., due to a colder, wetter winter and warmer, wet spring. The National Pest Management Association says those conditions have allowed pest populations to spike early, and will enable them to thrive throughout spring and summer.

While ticks are known to be most active in later spring, summer and fall, they can be out whenever or wherever it’s above freezing and there’s little to no snow cover, which means there’s a chance of tick activity almost all year long in Minnesota, save for the coldest months of winter.

Dr. Savannah Brosius, a veterinarian at Detroit Lakes Animal Hospital, said she’s heard reports that the ticks have already been out for a month or more in some areas around Detroit Lakes.

"They’re out in full force, that’s for sure," Brosius said.

She recommends treating pets for ticks year-round, instead of just seasonally. Chewable tablets are preferred, or topical preventatives such as Frontline. Flea and tick collars, she said, aren’t as reliable. There’s also a vaccine available to protect pets against Lyme, but Brosius cautions that it does not protect against other tickborne diseases, and thus other preventatives should still be used.
 
For people, unfortunately, there is no Lyme vaccine, but there are precautions that can be taken. The Minnesota Department of Health offers the following advice to avoid tick bites:
  • Start by being aware of ticks. Blacklegged ticks, or deer ticks, are found in wooded or brushy areas, while dog ticks, or wood ticks, are found all over. Both are common in Minnesota, and both can spread disease (though deer ticks are the most common culprit).
  • Use tick repellent on yourself and your pets.
  • Be diligent. Check for ticks on yourself, your pets and your clothing and gear at least once a day, and bathe or shower after coming indoors. Pay particular attention to hard-to-see areas like behind the knees and ears, or in skin folds.
  • If you find a tick on yourself or your pet, remove it right away. Use tweezers or your fingers to pull it out slowly and gently, then clean the area with soap and water. Ticks need to be attached for a day or two to spread Lyme; Anaplasmosis may spread quicker.
  • If you live near the woods, keep your lawn and any trails mowed short. Remove leaves and clear brush around the house and at the edges of the yard. You can also make a landscape barrier, such as a 3-foot wide wood chip border, between your lawn and the woods.
  • Call your doctor if you get a fever, rash or other symptoms after being in a wooded or brushy area.

For more information, visit  health.state.mn.us/diseases/tickborne/prevention.html.