As the weather continues to get warmer, the tick population activity in Berrien County will continue to increase. As residents spend more time outside in the summer months, the Berrien County Health Department (BCHD) would like to remind people, especially those spending time outdoors and children at summer or day-camps, to protect themselves from tick-borne illnesses by taking a few precautionary steps.
Ticks can carry illnesses such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Lyme disease continues to be the most commonly reported vector-borne disease in the United States. In Michigan, there were 125 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in 2015 with the most exposures occurring in the Upper Peninsula and along Michigan’s western shoreline, including in Berrien County. The number of Lyme disease cases has slowly increased over the years in Michigan.
Ticks are typically found in wooded or brushy areas with tall grass and leaf litter. Tick populations that may transmit Lyme disease are expanding among Lake Michigan shoreline counties, like Berrien County. Prompt recognition and treatment is essential to prevent serious illness and death.
Testing Ticks for Lyme Disease
Ticks that were attached to the body and have been kept alive can be tested for Lyme disease. The live tick should be placed in a small container with a leaf and moistened paper towel. Residents who wish to have a tick tested for Lyme disease can call the Berrien County Health Department at 269-926-7121 for further information about the submission and testing process.
Preventing Tick Bites
Residents can prevent tick bites by doing the following:
Avoiding tick-infested areas. This is especially important in May, June, and July. If you are in tick infested areas, walk in the center of trails to avoid contact with overgrown grass, brush, and leaf litter at trail edges.
Using insect repellent. Spray repellent containing DEET or Permethrin on clothes and on exposes skin. For children, repellents should contain no more than 30 percent DEET, and the repellent should not be sprayed on a child’s hands or face. You can also treat clothes (especially pants, socks, and shoes) with permethrin, which kills ticks on contact. Permethrin can also be used on tents and some camping gear. Do not use permethrin directly on skin. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when applying any repellents.
Bathing or showering. Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within 2 hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you. Ticks can get a ride indoors on your clothing, so after being outdoors, wash and dry the clothing you wore at a high temperature to kill any ticks that may remain on your clothes.
Performing daily tick checks. Always check for ticks after being outdoors, even in your own yard. Because ticks must usually be attached for at least a day before they can transmit the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, early removal can reduce the risk of infection. Remove attached ticks with tweezers by grasping the tick firmly and as closely to the skin as possible. With a steady motion, pull the tick’s body away from the skin. Do not be alarmed if the tick’s mouthparts remain in the skin. Cleanse the area with an antiseptic, like rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide.
Additional Resources on Tick Bite Safety
The Berrien County Health Department brochure "Ticks and Your Health" can be found at all Berrien County parks and trailheads.
For more information about diseases carried by ticks, proper removal of ticks, testing and diagnosis of Lyme disease, please visit www.michigan.gov/lymedisease.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention website about tick safety: www.cdc.gov/ticks