Minnesota has been enjoying some beautiful fall weather lately, and – not to be all Debbie downer about it but – that has health officials reminding people to be careful with ticks.
Peak activity for blacklegged ticks (deer ticks) is in late May through June, but activity spikes again in the fall when temperatures start to cool down.
That brings adult deer ticks back out, the Minnesota Department of Health says. (Deer ticks stay active as long as the temperature remains above freezing, according to the University of Rhode Island Tick Encounter Resource Center.)
And some ticks can spread diseases, including Lyme disease, a potentially serious bacterial infection.
So if you're going on a hike or spending time in the woods or near brush, it's important to use a good tick repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and check for ticks regularly (a tick has to be attached for at least 24 hours to transmit bacteria), MDH suggests.
What if I was bit?
If you think you were bitten by a tick, it's important to watch for symptoms of Lyme disease – the earlier it's diagnosed and treated, the better.
Initial symptoms include a distinctive bullseye-shaped rash, fever, chills, headache, muscle and joint pain, and fatigue. More long-term complications can include facial paralysis, problems with your nervous system, swelling in your joints, and persistent weakness and fatigue.
Lyme disease cases are on the rise
Minnesota is one of 14 states where the majority of Lyme disease cases are found. Central, northern and southeastern Minnesota are considered the most high-risk areas to contract a tick-borne illness (see a map here), so if you're planning to spend time in the woods there, take extra precautions.
Last year, there were 1,176 confirmed cases of Lyme disease, and one person died from the disease. Despite the number of cases fluctuating from year to year (see graph below), the Department of Health says the median number of cases is growing.
Over the past decade, the median number of cases is 1,121. That's significantly higher than the median 464 cases from 1996 to 2005. The health department says the rise in cases can be attributed to a few factors, including: increasing physician awareness, increasing infection rates in ticks, and expanding tick distribution.