They wait in the tall grass, hoping to jump on unsuspecting passers-by.
They’re just tiny ticks, but these black-bodied leeches can deliver a powerful and potentially serious punch.
And this year, ticks are out in force, experts say. The season is expected to be particularly bad for ticks, due to a general warming trend and more people are stepping out during the pandemic.
“Many of us have heard of the tick boom,” said Rosemary Olivero, MD, pediatric infectious disease specialist from Spectrum Health Medical Group, in an interview a few years ago. “It is important to remember that we always expect a dramatic increase in the presence of all types of ticks during this time of year.”
The Michigan Department of Community Health has reported an increase in the number of blacklegged ticks along the shores of Lake Michigan in recent years. The blacklegged tick was once called the deer tick.
Brian Hartl, epidemiologist at Kent County Department of HealthThe communicable disease division of, said the tick boom was a multi-year trend. His advice is the same today as it was years ago.
“When it comes to ticks, we don’t do any monitoring per se, but we do know that tick habitats are spreading east,” Hartl explained. “Historically, blacklegged ticks – those that carry Lyme disease – have been found on the shores of the lake. But they extend towards the interior of the lakes.
But ticks are more of a problem than just Lyme disease, Dr Olivero said.
“The blacklegged tick can transmit Lyme disease, which is the most common tick infection in Michigan,” she said. “The same tick can also transmit anaplasmosis and babesiosis, which hardly ever occur in Michigan. Other ticks (such as the American dog tick, solitary tick, groundhog tick, and brown dog tick) can transmit other diseases: Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, ehrlichisus, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis. Fortunately these infections are quite rare in Michigan.
Two years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued warning about a general increase in all insect-borne diseases.
It happened on the tails of the agency sharing news about a new, once-rare tick-borne disease – the Powassan virus. Powassan cases are expected to increase as the ranks of mice and ticks carrying the disease increase.
Symptoms of this serious infection can include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, seizures, and memory loss. Long-term neurological problems can occur. The CDC notes that there is no specific treatment, but some people must be hospitalized to receive respiratory support and intravenous fluids or drugs to reduce swelling in the brain.
Hartl said the best defense against ticks is to prevent them from latching on in the first place.
“Really, it’s just about being aware of your surroundings,” he said. “If you are camping or hiking, wear long pants or socks to avoid catching ticks. They like to hang out in the tall grass and grab hold of you as you pass.
And if you find a tick attached to your body, remove it properly. There are videos online for how to do this. Dr Olivero recommended this video for the correct way to remove ticks. For Lyme disease to be transmitted, ticks must be attached for 24 to 48 hours.
“If you can remove it quickly enough, you can avoid getting Lyme disease,” Hartl said.
Dr Olivero agreed.
“There are two effective ways to prevent tick bites: wear long sleeves and use insect repellents,” she said. “Doing daily tick checks to remove attached ticks can help prevent Lyme disease from a tick. Important areas to check for ticks include the hairline and behind the ears. With care, using sharp tweezers is the most effective way to remove a tick.