This article appeared in the March-April issue of Soybean Business Magazine.
In certain swaths of Minnesota, tick prevention and examination is a necessary practice when engaging in outdoor activities.
“It’s a very good idea when you’ve been outside to examine yourself for ticks,” says Jeff Hahn, Extension entomologist at the University of Minnesota. “The sooner you find them, the lower your risk can be.”
Minnesota has two common tick species: the American dog tick (commonly known as a wood tick) and the blacklegged tick (also known as a deer tick). The American dog tick is considered relatively benign. The black legged tick, however, is far more dangerous; it can transmit several diseases, most notably Lyme disease.
“With the American dog tick, the risk of disease is very low,” Hahn says. “It’s the black legged tick that really carries a risk and needs to be taken seriously.”
Hahn says farmers shouldn’t be worried about scouting for ticks in their fields, but growers who have adjacent undeveloped areas near their farms should be cautious. Farmers with smaller fields are generally more likely to encounter ticks because there’s more opportunity for the host mammals to be present, helping move ticks around.
“The ticks aren’t going to be interested in the monoculture that is a soybean field, or most any other ag field, for that matter,” Hahn says. “Anytime they’re walking in any area adjacent to their field in taller grass, then ticks are a possibility.”
Minnesota Soybean Growers Association Vice President Jamie Beyer had her own close encounter several years ago with the blacklegged deer tick. While spending time at the family cabin in Fergus Falls, Beyer noticed a ‘bullseye,’ a familiar deer tick marking, on her leg. It had only taken a few hours for the bullseye to show. At the urging of her husband, Rod, Jamie visited a local clinic.
“I knew instantly and kind of freaked out,” she says. “Luckily I spotted it soon – I had a friend who got bit near his hairline, and he didn’t know for weeks. Sometimes you can’t even see the bullseye, so I was fortunate.”
The doctor prescribed Beyer antibiotics, and told her the tick could’ve been hosting a variety of diseases, not just Lyme disease. Outside of some tenderness near the bite mark, she was fine within days. But it was a close call, she recalls with a chuckle.
“It was just one of those years where there were a lot of ticks,” she says. “I’m glad I got it checked out as soon as I did. Like a lot of medical issues, early detection is really important.”
The wood tick is usually encountered when they’re adults, usually in the spring time. The wood tick can be found in temps as low as the mid-30s Fahrenheit; Hahn says he’s seen reported lyme diseases cases from as late as November to as early as April.
“Moisture is always an important factor,” he says. “They’re more at risk drying out and dying than being sensitive to temperatures. The take home for farmers is they’re active for as long as they’re in the fields.”
In Minnesota, ticks are most often found in the east, central and northern sections of the state. But the environment plays an important role.
“It always depends on the habitat you’re around,” Hahn says. “People should always be watching for ticks, because we’re going to see ticks every year regardless. I don’t want anyone to lower their guard.”
Ticks are commonly found in grasses or shrub. When a host walks by, they grab on to the host and find a place to bite. Ticks can be found virtually anywhere on the body.
“It’s always a good idea when you’ve been outdoors to examine yourself for ticks,” Hahn says.
Hahn recommends if a person suspects they’ve been bit by a tick is to first confirm they’ve actually been bitten. Don’t panic – they can’t transmit any diseases if they’re just crawling on the body. Even if a person has been bitten by a deer tick, it takes at least 24 hours for the tick to vector any diseases they have. But be mindful of any unusual markings, or unusual dizziness and fever.
“If you’ve had the tick positively identified as a blacklegged, see your physician,” Hahn says. “Make sure you tell a medical professional you’ve been bitten by a tick that can transmit a disease.”