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Tick season again - Western North Dakotans see a rise in parasitic pests this year

File photo.

THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK -- Growing up in the area, John Heiser said he never saw as many wood ticks as he does now in the field.

Heiser, a Badlands naturalist who studies flora and fauna conditions in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, said he used to come across an average of about 10 ticks on a normal stroll.

These days, he said, he spots tons.

"There are more wood ticks now than I ever saw as a youngster," Heiser said.

He is not alone. Many North Dakotans are already claiming this year's tick season to be worse than previous years. It is reportedly easy to spot droves of them among the tall grass and in the woods, not to mention clinging to a person's skin afterward.

Through latching onto and burrowing into a host's skin, ticks can transmit diseases such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and anaplasma. According to the North Dakota Department of Health's Center for Disease Control, at least 24 cases of tick-borne illnesses were reported in the state in 2014, while none have been reported yet this year.

In a recent survey of a 300-yard swath of land, Heiser said he was able to spot 74 of the parasites on grass and branches. This doesn't count the additional 48 he found on his clothes when he was finished.

"That's a lot of wood ticks," Heiser said.

He said he has a theory that this year's mild winter, along with above-average temperatures in March and April, are linked to the ticks' rise in population.

Jessie Evoniuk, a veterinarian at the State Avenue Veterinary Clinic in Dickinson, said she had noticed a higher rate of pets with tick issues this year.

"We have had more complaints of ticks, in general," Evoniuk said.

She said the clinic began issuing tick protection to its four-legged clients in April, which includes collars and topical ointments. It all depends on the pet's lifestyle and location, she said.

Jeb Williams, the wildlife chief of North Dakota Game and Fish, said he had personally noticed ticks were a little more intense this year, pulling a good amount of them off his clothes whenever he steps out in the brush. He said he's heard others report the same.

"You just get those observations from people," Williams said.

He added that ticks are noticeable, especially during turkey hunting season, which opens in April each year. But, Williams said, it's "something that you just deal with."

Williams said that ticks, no matter how prevalent, won't stop sportsmen from enjoying the outdoors. He said recreative people are well-versed in examining their clothes for ticks at the end of the day, and that they just have to continue to "do a little extra checking."

Michelle Feist of the North Dakota Center for Disease Control gave some tips for protecting against tick bites, including wearing long clothing to cover the arms and legs and tucking in the openings. Appropriate repellant is also a good idea, she said.

Feist said the northeast area of the state has been found to have a higher concentration of deer ticks, which are the main transmitters of Lyme disease.

According to the North Dakota Department of Health website, any tick bites should be disinfected with alcohol or other disinfectant before the tick is removed. One should place tweezers on the tick as close to the skin as possible, squeezing so as not to burst its juices onto the bite area. The tick should then be pulled slowly and without twisting so that the mouthparts do not break off.

Once removed, the bite should be disinfected again, and the tick should be disposed of safely by placing it in a container of alcohol or flushing it down the toilet.

Andrew Wernette

Wernette came to The Dickinson Press from his home state of Michigan in April 2015 as reporter for the newspaper's energy, political, crime, courts and cops beats. Before The Press, Wernette worked at his university's newspaper as a section editor, as well as interned at a local county paper as a reporter. Outside of work, he enjoys reading, writing, cooking, taking a stroll and planning his next world travel adventure.

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