It hardly seems fair.

The Northland has been through a winter of cold and snow in historic proportions. It seems like it should at least have killed off the ticks.

Not so, said the state Health Department’s tick guy. The snow mitigated the effects of the cold.

“Certainly in your area, there was no lack of snow,” said David Neitzel, who is more properly known as a tick-borne disease specialist with the Minnesota Department of Health. “And that snow provides a little insulation blanket for the ticks.”

Mid-May is the beginning of prime season for blacklegged ticks - aka deer ticks - Neitzel said. Because of that, the Health Department came out on Tuesday with its annual precautionary statement about avoiding tick-borne diseases.

It included sobering news: Last year, 1,431 cases of Lyme disease were reported in Minnesota, a record. The disease is carried by blacklegged ticks, as are anaplasmosis and babesiosis, which also had higher-than-usual numbers.

Lyme disease is nasty. Fatigue, chills, fever, headache, muscle and joint aches and swollen lymph nodes are common early symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If it’s untreated, an additional array of symptoms can develop later.

Lisa Hoche-Mathews of Moose Lake was diagnosed with Lyme disease on Sept. 21, six days after collapsing on the floor of her home in a pool of sweat.

Although she was able to return to her post office job the next day, her symptoms didn’t improve, said Hoche-Mathews, 49.

“General fatigue, sweating all the time, my knees started to hurt and then my neck and my glands were swelling,” she recalled. “My eyes were getting all puffy and really sore, and then I had this really odd rash on my neck that was very hot and spreading.”

But the rash didn’t take the bull’s eye shape that sometimes characterizes Lyme disease, Hoche-Mathews said. The CDC reports a rash occurs in about 70-80 percent of cases and may resemble a bull’s eye. It usually feels warm to the touch but is rarely itchy or painful, the CDC says.  

Hoche-Mathews, who has recovered under the care of a chiropractor, said she doesn’t recall a tick bite, but she knows she lives in prime tick territory.

Neitzel confirmed that Moose Lake is in the heart of tick territory. Tick numbers decrease toward Duluth and decrease even further as you go into the Arrowhead. Still, Neitzel has counted blacklegged ticks in the Castle Danger area and has had credible reports of ticks near Grand Marais, he said.

“We’re certainly seeing ticks established in areas where we never saw ticks before,” said Neitzel, who has been studying ticks in Minnesota since 1985. In the past, blacklegged ticks were mostly confined to east-central Minnesota, he said.

The Health Department urges people venturing into tick habitat - wooded or brushy areas - to defend themselves. A DEET-based repellent can be applied to clothing or skin. Pre-treating fabric with permethrin-based repellents can protect against tick bites for at least two weeks, the news release said, and is an excellent option for people who spend a lot of time in the woods.

It’s also important to check yourself for ticks after you’ve been in tick territory, according to the statement. If you find a tick, remove it immediately.

Take precautions, Neitzel said, but don’t let the threat of ticks keep you indoors.

“We want people to keep walking in the woods,” Neitzel said. “A lot of Minnesotans have been cooped up all winter. But we want people to know that this time of the year is a good time to wear repellents to keep the ticks off.”

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