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Special Report: Ticks On The Move

Updated: May 12, 2019 11:04 PM

Most of us have a common reaction when we think of ticks. "Oh my gosh that is so gross," University of Minnesota-Duluth Student Amanda Lamin said when we asked her what she thought of the blood sucking little critters.

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"That literally creeps me out",  UMD Student Jerso Gayflor said when we asked her what she thought about ticks.

These are the type of responses most of us would expect when it comes to thinking about ticks. Unless you are UMD Associate Professor Dr. Ben Clarke and his UMD research students. "Nobody likes ticks, except for us," Clarke said. 

That's because Clarke and his group of brave students are hunting for ticks across the Northland. After a successful tick hunt, they use thier findings to identify tick infested areas.

"The goal that we are trying to do is develop a tick risk map so that we can put something online where you can see where people have been identifying ticks have or carry the disease for Bacteria Borrelia that causes Lyme disease," Clarke said.

When it comes to dealing with the creepy, crawling critters, protection always comes first. So we suited up in protective gear with Clarke and his group of students and headed off on our quest for ticks. 

"Every ten meters we will stop, pick up the flag, and then inspect it for the ticks, and you just pull them off. We just drop them into either a little baggie or a little vile and we mark off where we found those ticks," Clarke said. "Eventually what we want to do is set up a map or a grid of where the ticks are found."

And of course, the success of the tick hunt always depends on the weather. "They don't like to be in dry, warm, really hot air, and they don't like a whole lot of wet, moisture so they will try and hide," Clarke said.

That is why the midwest is a perfect home for two common types of ticks: one species is the dog tick, also known as the wood tick, and the other is the Blacklegged Tick.

UMD Associate Professor Dr. David Schimpf says that the second species, the Blacklegged tick that is the one we need to be concerned with."The Lyme disease and a variety of other diseases are transmitted by the Blacklegged tick, which has also been called the Deer Tick."

Given the recent weather pattern and winter weather that seems to keep hanging on, many of us may anxiously be waiting for warmer temperatures. But warmer temperatures may be pushing another tick species into our neck of the woods.

"Thirdly we have the Lone star tick which is from farther South, but is in the Central Midwest and maybe slowly moving North and that carries still a different array of diseases," Schimpf said. "It bites a great variety of animals, including humans, and it is something we need to watch out for in the future."

With the threat of even another species migrating into the area from the South, it's safe to say ticks are not going away anytime soon. So what can we do to protect ourselves?

"The important thing is to not brush it off. To take it seriously," Schimpf said. "It is worth a little bit of extra time to try and avoid these problems because they can make you quite sick." 

One of Schimpf's and Clarke research associates at UMD, Cole Fisher says there are some precautions we can take to keep ourselves and our loved ones from tick carried diseases while still enjoying our beautiful summer weather.

"A broad based way of protecting yourself is to use a good quality bug spray, to resist the urge to go out in the summertime in skimpy shorts and a tank top," Fisher said. "Full body coverage does help reduce your risk of catching any type of insect born disease."

Another key step to not getting sick is to check yourself for ticks after spending time outside. In the unlucky event you find yourself bitten by a tick, acting quickly could save you a lot of trouble."I'ts important to remove that tick as soon as you can," Clarke said. "It takes about 18 to 24 hours before the tick can effectively inject the bacteria into you."

To help with the removal of the tick, you will want a tick removal key that Clarke offers in his tick kits. "So the key has this little fluted end, so you want to take out the tick properly, you want to get the entire head out, and so where that fluted end is you put it over the tick and you pull up and you pull it," Clarke said. "It is just like having a tweezer."

Once you have safely removed the tick, you can help Dr. Clarke and his students in thier research efforts by sending the little critters to them.

"Try to imagine my mailbox during the spring and the summer when I get these little baggies in the mail that come in these envelopes, and ill probably on any given day probably get 10 to 20 ticks. So they accumulate pretty fast."

So the next time you want to get outside and enjoy a nice summer day, remember, the ticks are likely thinking the same thing.

"You can't really avoid it, but at least you can take precautions," Clarke said.

You can contact Dr. Clarke by email at bclarke@d.umn.edu to request a free tick kit which includes the tick removal key and an evelope to send the ticks back to him.

Copyright 2019 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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