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After alarming findings last year, ND's tick season arrives again

North Dakota's most common tick is the American dog tick, also known as the woodtick. Wikipedia Commons

MINOT, N.D.—While North Dakotans were anxiously awaiting warmer weather so too were those creepy, crawly, disease laden dwellers of the grass and twigs and leaves. Tick season has arrived.

Though small in size, for many people ticks have the fear factor of a charging lion. Tick bites can be alarming too due to the high probability that they are carrying a potentially dangerous disease.

The North Dakota Department of Health began a tick surveillance program last year. Some of the findings thus far appear alarming, revealing that most ticks carry pathogens that can be transmitted to humans. The state's Department of Microbiology tested a total of 757 ticks last year.

"When the results are broken down by the number of ticks tested, 551 of the 757 ticks tested positive for at least one type of tickborne pathogen," the health department's Laura Cronquist said in an email.

Cronquist also provided a breakout of Tick Surveillance Program data for Region 2 around Minot, which consists of Ward, Burke, Renville, Bottineau, Mountrail, McHenry and Pierce counties.

"We tested 350 ticks from Region 2 last year," wrote Cronquist. "279 of the 350 ticks tested positive for at least one type of tickborne pathogen,"

That's just a fraction less than 80 percent. It is an astounding number but, in reality, may not be much different from what occurs in ticks elsewhere in the country. In short, ticks are nasty little buggers whose bite can deliver lasting harm.

Last year there was 56 cases of Lyme disease reported in the state, 17 of anaplasmosis and 14 of Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Tick bites are the source.

Symptoms of tickborne diseases generally include fever, lethargy, muscle pain, headaches and chills. Sometimes confusion, coughs and rashes are evident. Sometimes it takes one to two weeks following a tick bite for symptoms to become noticed.

"Some have diseases and don't know it," said Cronquist. "They can be very serious if not treated in time."

North Dakota's most common tick is the American dog tick, or woodtick. They are known carriers of Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Lyme disease is generally credited to bites from deer ticks.

"Historically deer ticks have been mapped out on the eastern side of North Dakota," Cronquist said. "Last year it was interesting to find them in the central and western states."

The Tick Surveillance Program, which includes cooperation from veterinarians throughout the state who regularly submit ticks removed from pets and livestock to the DOH, will continue this summer. One surprising item that surfaced during last year's surveillance was the discovery of a few Lone Star ticks.

"We were really surprised to find those," said Cronquist. "We're not entirely sure how they got here and how many there are here. They are a different genus entirely and can carry different diseases."

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says the range of the Lone Star tick has been increasing beyond its original range in the southeastern portion of the U.S. Among the spooky diseases it is known to carry is one that causes people to become unable to eat red meat. Those that become infected from Lone Star ticks can experience severe reactions from eating meat, such as hives, itching, vomiting and diarrhea.

Many of the tickborne diseases are capable of producing long-term or permanent injury. In the case of the Powassan virus, to date very rare, death can occur. Fortunately, most people infected by tick bites will not develop symptoms. Still though, most people choose to eliminate as much risk as possible.

"Ticks don't discriminate," said Cronquist. "People should use a repellent with 20 percent Deet. Clothing, boots and gear should be treated with permethrin. We have a good product finder on our website. Also, talk to your vet about prevention for pets."