Michigan Ticks: Identification and Prevention Strategies for Bites

Michigan residents may face a higher risk of encountering ticks this year due to the warmer winter. Experts suggest that the milder weather conditions might result in more ticks being active. While ticks are typically most active from April to September, they can remain active whenever temperatures exceed 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Given our warm winter, I expect more people will find ticks on themselves during tick checks and be exposed to more ticks,” said Kristen Schweighoefer, environmental health director for the Washtenaw County Health Department. “We anticipate a greater presence of ticks in the environment.”

As outdoor activities increase, so does the likelihood of coming into contact with various habitats and animals, raising the chances of encountering ticks on oneself or pets.

“We want to ensure people are checking themselves because you might not feel a tick bite, but it will attach and feed over several hours or days,” Schweighoefer noted.

Common Ticks in Michigan

Ticks are external parasites that attach to humans, birds, and reptiles, feeding on their blood. Some ticks can transmit viruses, parasites, and bacteria, with the most concerning being Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium responsible for Lyme disease.

Michigan hosts over 20 tick species, with the most common being the American dog tick, blacklegged tick (which can carry Lyme disease), lone star tick, woodchuck tick, and brown dog tick.

“American dog ticks can transmit some diseases to people, but they are less common. They are also larger and easier to spot and remove,” said Emily Dinh, medical entomologist for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. “Blacklegged ticks are more challenging to detect because adults are about the size of a sesame seed.”

Most counties in Michigan have reported at least two confirmed cases of Lyme disease exposure or are known for having blacklegged ticks that carry the disease, according to the health department’s 2024 Michigan Lyme disease risk map.

How to Identify and Remove Ticks

Ticks are small, oval-shaped, flat, and wingless, varying in color from grayish-white to brown, black, red-brown, or yellow. Prompt removal of ticks can reduce the risk of disease transmission. The Central Michigan District Health Department advises removing ticks by grasping the head close to the skin and pulling slowly.

After removal, clean the area with soap and water or rubbing alcohol, and seal the tick in a clear container for identification. You can submit photos to the MDHHS for further identification.

Protecting Yourself from Tick Bites

Ticks’ bites are painless and can lead to severe health issues if not addressed. Lyme disease can cause flu-like symptoms such as fever, fatigue, chills, and rashes, appearing between three and 30 days after a tick bite. A distinctive “bull’s-eye” rash may develop, signaling an infected tick bite.

Early detection and treatment with antibiotics are crucial to prevent serious complications like severe headaches, neck stiffness, facial palsy, and nerve pain.

“Ticks can attach anywhere on your body, often in hidden places like hairlines, ears, armpits, and groins,” Dinh explained. She recommends putting clothes in the dryer for a few minutes after outdoor activities to kill any ticks on clothing.

Best Practices for Tick Prevention:

  • Use insect repellent containing at least 20% DEET, picaridin, or IR3535.
  • Wear light-colored clothing to spot ticks easily.
  • Inspect your skin and remove ticks before going indoors.
  • Shower after being outside.

While avoiding tick-prone areas is an option, ticks are widespread, making it challenging for outdoor enthusiasts to completely avoid contact. Regular checks and preventive measures are essential to enjoy the outdoors safely.

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