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Health Fusion: A walk in the woods to see a loon turns into a tick nightmare (and other scary tick stories)

Ticks are out in full force, waiting for you to walk by so they can hitch a ride and take a bite. In this Health Fusion column, Viv Williams shares how two lovely walks in the woods turned into several days of tick terror. And she gives tips on how to avoid ticks and what to do when one is attached to you.

blacklegged tick
Ticks are vectors for diseases, such as Lyme disease, erlichiosis and anaplasmosis.
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ROCHESTER, Minn. — Spring and summer in the Upper Midwest can be breathtakingly beautiful. With all of the lakes, fields, forest and sunshine, it's no wonder people flock here for vacations and to attend summer camps. But the bounties of nature come with a dark side — ticks.

"We went for a little hike in the woods," says Tina Erickson, an outdoor enthusiast from Minneapolis. "When I changed my clothes, I found seven ticks on me and two were attached. Hours after my shower, I found two more. And then the next day I found another staring up at me from the pile of clothes I shed after that hike."

Erickson says she felt phantom ticks crawling over her for days after that incident. I can totally relate. A few years ago I had the incredible pleasure of tagging along while Chip Davis, founder of the music group Mannheim Steamroller, set up microphones to record loon songs in northern Minnesota. The recordings were then incorporated into soundscapes that people could use to help them relax.

During that adventure, I took a moment to explore. After a quick 10 minutes in the woods, I returned covered with ticks. And believe me, I felt as if those things were crawling on my body and in my hair for a very long time. Although, I have to admit that I got a laugh at dinner that night when a tick crawled out of my hair and onto my forehead. The horror in the eyes of people at my table was like something out of a scary movie.

RELATED: 2021 drought impact on Minnesota tick numbers unclear at summer peak

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Ticks can truly be frightening. They carry diseases, such as Lyme disease and ehrlichiosis. Dr. Bobbi Pritt , director of the Mayo Clinic Parasitology Laboratory, played a key role in the discovery that ticks carry the ehrlichia muris eauclairensis bacterium . She knows a lot about ticks and offers some practical info about how to avoid them.

"Ticks don't jump or fly," Pritt said. "They crawl up vegetation, such as blades of grass or shrubbery. And when people or animals walk by, they grab on. So simple measures, such as staying away from the edge of a path where the tall grasses are can help you avoid ticks and tick bites."

Pritt says other ways to avoid ticks include:

  • Tucking pant legs into socks.
  • Wear long sleeve shirts.
  • Spray exposed skin with Environmental Protection Agency-approved tick repellent that contains DEET.
  • Saturate clothing with tick repellent, such as permethrin.

"Before I spend time outside in an area where there might be ticks, I spray my clothes the night before," Pritt said. "Then in the morning, they're ready to go."
Pritt says before you use any type of repellent for skin or clothing, read the label carefully and follow instructions.

The Mayo Clinic News Network has helpful information about ticks:

  • Remove the tick carefully and as soon as possible. Use fine tipped tweezers to pull the entire tick out without twisting it. Don't use petroleum jelly, fingernail polish or a hot match.
  • Save it in a sealed container if possible in case a health care provider wants to see it.
  • Wash your hands and the bite with warm soapy water or rubbing alcohol.

Call your health care provider if:

  • You can't remove all of the tick.
  • You develop a rash that gets bigger.
  • You get a fever or flu-like symptoms.
  • You think you may have been bitten by a deer tick.

Call 911 if you develop:

  • A severe headache.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Paralysis.
  • Heart palpitations.

Antibiotics can be very effective against tick-borne disease, so don't delay seeing your health care provider.

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Follow the  Health Fusion podcast on  Apple,   Spotify and  Google podcasts. For comments or other podcast episode ideas, email Viv Williams at  vwilliams@newsmd.com. Or on Twitter/Instagram/FB @vivwilliamstv.

MORE HEALTH FUSION:
Ticks can survive a Minnesota winter, but their go time is March through October. In this episode of NewsMD's "Health Fusion," Viv Williams goes in-depth with a tick expert who helped discover two pathogens that ticks can carry. And both of them can make you sick.

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