Don't let ticks take a bite out of your summer fun
Somewhere between the Fourth of July hot dogs and fireworks, a tick invited itself to my family's summer festivities and made quite an impression. On my daughter's neck.
We were sitting near my mom's summer place in northern Michigan, our legs stretched out on the grass, watching the wind make small waves on the lake, when I noticed a black dot on my daughter's neck. Except it wasn't a dot -- it was tick, making itself at home.
Ticks are no joking matter in Michigan and across the Midwest and Northeast. Ticks are tiny black-legged creatures related to spiders. There are more than 20 known tick species in Michigan, some of which carry potentially debilitating illnesses such as Lyme Disease.
Luckily, a little detective work -- with the help of your county health department -- and attentiveness can prevent most tick bites (if they are caught early enough) from being anything more than a nuisance.
Across Michigan, county health departments offer tick identification kits. They include a vial and envelope for ticks to be sent in to be properly identified. And these kits can certainly ease worries about ticks and Lyme Disease.
According to "Ticks and Your Health," a report by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the state's Department of Natural Resources and Michigan State University, 76% of the ticks submitted are American dog ticks, which don't carry Lyme disease.
Dog ticks are large brown ticks with ornate white markings. They're widespread throughout the Lower and Upper Peninsulas in wooded and grassy areas. And female dog ticks are active from May through July and will bite people and pets.
And while ticks can be tested to see if they carry Lyme disease, only ticks that are still alive will be tested, according to the state.
But it's still a good idea to send in ticks to have them at least identified, says Mark Hansell, the chief of environmental health and special programs for the Oakland County Health Division, because "it's still important that we know what’s out there and in what kind of numbers."
Blacklegged ticks are the vector by which Lyme Disease is carried. According to the "Ticks and Your Health" report, there are at least 30 counties in Michigan with a known risk for Lyme Disease. That's because there have been at least two confirmed local exposures or ticks or animals with Lyme bacteria.
Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties are considered counties with potential risk for Lyme disease.
Hansell says the most important thing is prevention.
"The best way to prevent tick bites would be to wear insect repellant," he said, "especially in areas with higher weeds and brush and shrubbery – and checking yourself for ticks."
In my daughter's case, I'm fairly certain the tick that bit her had only been there for 30 minutes to a couple of hours at most. Hansell says it takes 36 hours for a tick to transmit Lyme disease. And if you see the tell-tale bulls-eye rash, contact your doctor because you'll need antibiotics.
I immediately took hold of the tick that crashed our summer party and pulled it out intact and alive. Unsure what to do next, I shoved it into a plastic ziplock bag and called my daughter's pediatrician.
Now we wait to have it identified and keep an eye on my daughter's neck. A tick may have crashed our summer party, but we are biting back -- with knowledge.