Winter warm up brings ticks, Lyme disease threat

Adult ticks can be about the size of a sesame seed, while nymphal ticks are approximately the size of a poppy seed.(Courtesy CDC)

MANISTEE — When Michigan’s chilly temperatures arrive, pet owners often think tick prevention is no longer necessary but veterinarians say these parasites are still a threat.

Due to an unseasonably warm winter, ticks are able to roam around when the weather is above freezing.

Next week, according to the National Weather Service, temperatures are projected in the mid to upper 30s and 40s, which has been a trend this winter.

Laura Betts, owner and veterinarian at the Parkdale Animal Hospital in Manistee County, said it is not uncommon for her to deal with ticks during a winter such as this one.

“We know that with the warmer temperatures, even with snow on the ground, ticks are active,” Betts said. “The ticks will kind of go into a sort of frozen state if temperatures get low enough, and when temperatures come back up they will become active. That’s why year-round external and internal parasite control is so important.”

The tick threat also brings a chance for Lyme disease to spread. Betts said the rise in Lyme disease has been particularly noticeable at Parkdale Animal Hospital.

“We have seen a dramatic increase in Lyme disease at this hospital in the last few years,” she said. “There has been a 71 percent increase in our canine patients. It’s a huge problem for our dogs because it can make them very sick.”

Pet owners are encouraged to check dogs for ticks each day to help prevent the transmission of diseases.

“The free test for ticks is only applicable for humans, but the good news is keeping your dogs on protection and looking at your dogs every day can help prevent the disease,” Betts said. “Depending on the disease, ticks have to be on (a pet) for at least 24 hours and sometimes longer to transmit a disease.”

Signs of Lyme disease should be monitored, if a tick is found or if there is a risk of exposure to the disease. These symptoms include pets not feeling well, staying quiet, limping or bruising.

Humans are also not in the clear.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a bacteria called borrelia burgdorferi is to blame for Lyme disease. It is transmitted when an infected blacklegged tick — often called a deer tick — bites a human.

Symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and a skin rash called erythema migrans that is shaped like a bulls-eye. When left untreated, the infection can spread to other areas of the body such as the joints, heart and nervous system.

Most cases of the disease can be treated with a few weeks of antibiotics. Ticks are often found in wooded areas and on the edge of lawns and wooded areas; however, they can be transferred to other places by animals.

Betts said the tick population was unusual this past fall.

“This is the first fall that we saw ticks active, usually populations dwindle down quite a bit after summer,” Betts said. “We saw a very robust tick population on our patients all fall. It was very unusual.”

For prevention, topical flea and tick treatments are recommended, and a Lyme disease vaccination is also available. Consult a veterinarian for more information.

Betts also suggests trying prescription tick collars, and if using a parasite control method that lasts up to multiple months, schedule a reminder for the next dosage.

“There are different preparations,” Betts said. “It can be very convenient to keep your pets protected and not have to worry so much. Veterinarians can help remind you.”

For more information about Lyme disease or to report a tick, visit www.michigan.gov/emergingdiseases and click on the “Lyme Disease” tab. Contact a health care professional if any symptoms develop within a few weeks of a tick bite.

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Posted by Ashlyn Korienek

Ashlyn is the cops & courts and city reporter for the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach her at (231) 398-3109 or akorienek@pioneergroup.com

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