Experts warn of increased tick, mosquito activity this season

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published June 21, 2017

METRO DETROIT — Are you just itching to get outside and play in this gorgeous Michigan summer weather?

Or are you just itching?

It’s been a banner year so far for creepy crawlers, with nature centers and medical professionals alike reporting higher-than-normal rates of insect bites. 

That’s particularly true of ticks, which are not only notoriously stealthy but also potentially dangerous.

“Residents are urged to protect themselves against Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases,” Leigh-Anne Stafford, health officer for the Oakland County Health Division, said in a prepared statement. “If Lyme disease is diagnosed promptly, it can be treated with antibiotics. If someone is experiencing flu-like symptoms, muscle and joint pain, dizziness, and/or a bull’s-eye rash, they need to seek medical attention.”

Lyme disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is the most prominent tick-borne disease in the Midwest. Nearly 40,000 cases were reported across the nation last year, largely in the Northeast and Midwest regions.

“There are a number of diseases that ticks can carry, but in Michigan the most common is Lyme disease,” said Kevin Lokar, medical director of the Macomb County Health Department. “Ehrlichiosis and babesiosis are some others, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. But we don’t see those as frequently in Macomb County as we do Lyme disease.”

Stafford described the symptoms of Lyme disease as flu-like, with muscle and joint pain, dizziness and a bull’s-eye-shaped rash. Anyone with those symptoms should seek medical attention immediately so they can be treated with antibiotics.

But that’s not the only scary illness lurking out in our grass and bushes. West Nile virus cases are still being reported annually in Michigan. Symptoms for that are similar to Lyme disease but can progress to a stiff neck, disorientation, fever or worse. The mosquito-borne illness has already been making waves in places like Saginaw and Kalamazoo, but Lokar said we likely won’t see it in metro Detroit until late summer.

Luckily, to steer clear of both bugs, the protocol is the same: cover up and repel.

“Using a mosquito repellent that contains 20 percent DEET will keep ticks and mosquitoes away,” Lokar said. “And since ticks are usually low-level insects in the grass or shrubbery, cover your ankles when walking through high grass or woods.”

Long pants and long sleeves are a safe bet to avoid bugs in overgrown areas, he said. And when possible, it’s best to reserve outside activities for the middle of the day, when mosquitoes are least active.

If you’re bitten by a mosquito, you likely won’t know until later, when that scratchy lump rises up on your skin. There’s no reason to be alarmed unless you later begin to exhibit West Nile symptoms — just wait it out.

But if you’re bitten by a tick, you’ll want to take immediate action, according to Stafford, who said it’s important to remove ticks before they fully burrow underneath the skin.

“Grasp the tick with tweezers as close to the skin as possible,” she explained in her statement. “Pull back firmly, but do not squeeze the body of the tick. Try to pull the tick out without leaving mouth parts embedded on the skin. After removing the tick, wash hands and bite area thoroughly with soap and running water (and) apply an antibacterial cream to the site of the bite.”

While adults can check their own clothing and skin for ticks after a romp outside, kiddos and even pets might need a little help. Ticks can be just as dangerous to our furry friends, said Dr. Corey Gut, of DePorre Veterinary Hospital in Bloomfield Hills.

“We’ve had tons of cases (of ticks),” Gut said. “We’ve been removing ticks on animals for weeks, and you’d be amazed how many dogs come in for a bath at our grooming center and their owners didn’t even know they had a tick embedded under their armpit or something.”

Gut suspects it is the mild winter and pleasant spring we enjoyed in Michigan that are responsible for the uptick in ticks. Entomologists with Rose Pest Solutions claim, however, that the resurgence of the white-tailed deer and wild turkey populations are to blame as they, as well as small rodents, serve as hosts for ticks.

In any case, the increase in activity means it’s necessary for pet parents to practice diligence in checking their dogs for the pests. And if a tick can’t be removed successfully in a dog or human, it’s time to head over to a professional.

“It’s not only uncomfortable for dogs, but it can turn into a major health issue,” Gut said.