MARQUETTE - Though an early spring has been warmly welcomed by Upper Peninsula residents valuing the opportunity to get outside, it has also been a boon for ticks. And while ticks are rarely seen as little more than inconveniences, one type of disease-bearing tick has been identified recently in Marquette County.
The black-legged tick, a tiny creature, is often associated with wooded or grassy areas, sandy soils and an abundance of small mammals and deer, according to experts. The tick, which has been spreading through the U.P. for years, can carry Lyme disease.
Though the larger, and far more common, American dog tick seems to blanket the forests in the spring and summer, the black-legged tick was first discovered in the western U.P. in the 1980s. Since 2001, the tick's range has expanded gradually, according to a document compiled by the Michigan Department of Community Health, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Michigan State University.
A wood tick is seen in this U.S. Department of Agriculture photo. Experts said the early spring weather the region has experienced has helped produce a large number of ticks. (USDA photo)
The tick is common in much of western lower Michigan, while its U.P. range is slowly extending east from the Wisconsin border. The same document identifies Gogebic, Ontonagon and Menominee counties as "endemic counties," where infected tick populations have been confirmed or two human cases of Lyme Disease have been identified with local exposure.
Marquette County is a risk area, but is not considered endemic.
DNR Forest Health Specialist Bob Heyd, from Marquette said this year marks the first time he has ever heard accounts of black-legged ticks in the county. Two separate residents have brought black-legged ticks, which they found on their properties, to Heyd.
"It's really convinced me they are up here," he said. "Menominee and Dickinson (counties) are where we have more of the tick problem, but it's clear they are being spread - by people, probably."
Heyd sent both ticks to MSU for testing. Neither carried the bacteria that spreads Lyme disease.
And while people in Marquette County have occasionally presented with Lyme disease, Heyd said it is hard to identify the source.
"What's hard about that is that even though a person in Marquette County may have picked up Lyme disease, you don't know where it came from. That's a tough correlation to make."
Early symptoms of Lyme disease include chills, fever, headaches, muscle and joint pain and, typically, a skin rash. Weeks after being exposed, someone with Lyme disease will experience joint swelling, nervous system abnormalities such as nerve paralysis and, rarely, irregular heart rhythm.
In order to avoid all of that, Heyd said it is best to simply avoid ticks. When outside, tuck pant legs into boots or socks, and spray with approved tick repellents, such as DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus.
After coming inside, Hyde said it is best to check all skin over carefully for ticks. If you have been bitten by a tick, Heyd advises using a pair of tweezers to pull it gently until it releases.
"If you're really out in the woods and you're concerned, come home take your clothes off, look yourself over, take a shower and wash your hair and you'll probably never get Lyme disease," he said.
Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.