LANSING, Mich. — Jean Tsao was looking for ticks, which is what she does.
"We just dragged about 20 meters across the vegetation on the side of the path," she said Thursday morning at Fenner Nature Center. "That's a standard distance that our lab does.
Tsao is a professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State University. She's been studying ticks since 1994. And, what she's been seeing for the last many years is that their numbers are increasing.
Ticks numbers are increasing across the state and across all species, but the one to especially look out for is the black-legged tick, otherwise known as the deer tick, which transmits the Lyme disease pathogen.
The black-legged tick is as small as a poppy seed, and according to Michigan's Department of Health and Human Services, they are "well established in part of Michigan's lower peninsula.
The department said, in 2021, there were 878 confirmed and probable reported cases of Lyme disease, double the cases reported in 2020.
"In the early 2000s, they started coming into southeast Michigan area, and then moving north along Lake Michigan," Tsao said. "That's when I had come, and a graduate student I worked with documented that, and then coming in towards Lansing as well. Coming inland toward Lansing has taken a long time compared to going up the lake shore."
Tsao said in 2004, there weren't any ticks to be found at Fenner Nature Center.
"Then a member of the public submitted a tick to the health department and they were told they got it off their dog," Tsao said.
That was in 2014.
Tsao studies ticks to understand what the relative risk is by determining what species of tick are present and in what abundance, what pathogens each species carries and then the number of ticks found that actually carry said pathogens, because not all ticks are infected.
"If you're playing in grassy areas, known that you're more likely to come across a dog tick," Tsao said. "If you're in the woods, you're more likely to come across a black-legged tick or a lone star tick if you're in southwestern Michigan."
Most of the time, people do not see if a tick has bitten them unless it is still attached.
"If you find them attached to you, what you should do is find where it is attached to you at the closest point in your skin, take the tweezers and then pull it off directly," Tsao said. "Don't grab it at the large end that may be engorged because you might break the tick in half."
Clean the spot where the tick was removed and if possible, save the tick in a baggie with the date and location and then show your physician.
Tsao said that in order for a black-legged tick to transmit Lyme disease, it will have have to have fed for at least 36 hours.
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