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Recent rains could get us all bugged out

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WORTHINGTON -- Summer's finally here, and so are the bugs.

Recent rains have created ideal conditions for mosquitoes and ticks, which in turn could increase number of tick- and mosquito-borne illnesses.

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Jeff Hahn, University of Minnesota Extension entomologist, said it is "pretty easy" to explain the increase in mosquitoes.

"We've had a lot of rain, and they thrive on that kind of weather," he said. "They lay their eggs in still water, even in temporary pools. The more rain we get, the more of that environment is created, and that leads to higher numbers."

If the summer is drier, there is a chance the number of mosquitoes may decrease, but "right now, they are out in full force," Hahn said.

The weather has also been favorable for ticks, though less noticeably than for mosquitoes.

"I would say it is possible that ticks could be more abundant or common in certain areas, but I can't say that they are across the state," Hahn said.

With the increase of ticks and mosquitoes, the risk for diseases carried by both of the bugs also rises -- specifically for Lyme disease, carried by ticks, and West Nile, carried by mosquitoes.

"The mosquito that has been associated with West Nile is probably a prairie mosquito," explained Kim Jeppesen, district epidemiologist for the Minnesota Department of Health. "It can be more prevalent out here (in Southwest Minnesota), but it can vary from year to year."

Symptoms associated with West Nile include headaches, stiff neck, fever and chills.

"But the majority of people that get bite by an infected mosquito show little or no symptoms," Jeppesen added. "It is a very small number that go on to show West Nile fever and an even smaller number that get encephalitis."

Lyme disease is commonly found in the blacklegged tick, also called the deer tick, in regions of Minnesota.

"In southwest Minnesota, our main tick would not be one that would be hugely concerning because it can carry diseases, but it isn't the carrier of Lyme disease like in other parts of the state," Jeppesen said. "If you have land in the northern part of the state, for example, and you go up there camping or hiking, that's where your main exposure to the blacklegged tick will be."

June, especially, tends to see a higher number of Lyme disease cases reported.

"June is the prime time for people to run into immature tick nymphs," Hahn explained. "When the nymphs are active, they are most likely to care Lyme disease. Adult ticks are easier to see, but nymphs are so small that you could easily get bitten and not see it."

To prevent infection from mosquitoes and ticks, Jeppesen recommends wearing protective clothing and using effective insect repellent, especially in areas where the insects are likely to be prevalent.

Hahn also stressed caution when visiting areas where ticks are likely to be.

"Blacklegged ticks are more common in central, eastern and somewhat in the northern part of Minnesota," he said. "Even the southeast part of the state has high numbers."

Higher numbers of insects could also affect pets and small animals. According to Dr. Sara Hooge, veterinarian at Veterinary Medical Center, the largest risk mosquitoes pose to dogs is heartworm disease.

"Mosquitoes spread the heartworm larvae by biting dogs with heartworm disease. Over time, these larvae go to the heart, and eventually they grow into full-sized adult worms. The best way to prevent heartworm is to put your pet on a preventative," Hooge explained.

Ticks also spread diseases in animals that can cause arthritis, fever, decreased eating, weakness, or enlarged lymph nodes.

"The main diseases that we see ticks spread in this region are Lyme, Ehrlichia and Anaplasmosis. These diseases can be prevented by using tick preventatives such as Frontline or Certifect monthly. There is also an annual vaccination to prevent Lyme disease," Hooge said.

Hooge added that it is recommended to test annually for heartworm disease. This test also tests for the tick diseases Lyme, Ehrlichia and Anaplasmosis. These tests allow us to diagnose these diseases before the pet shows clinical signs.

While it is difficult to predict the amount of infections from ticks or mosquitoes, higher numbers of the insects often correlates with higher infection rates.

"Any prediction about a bad year or a not-so-bad year is hard to make," Jeppesen said. "We can say we'll see more ticks because of certain weather and more mosquitoes may appear to be more prevalent, but as far as how bad the year will be, we can't say that for sure. If you have more, you may have an increased risk of disease."

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Alyson Buschena
Alyson joined the Daily Globe newsroom staff after spending a year in Latin America. A native of Fulda and graduate of the University of Northwestern, she has a bachelor's degree in English with a dual concentration in Literature and Writing and a minor in Spanish. At the Daily Globe, Alyson covers the crime beat as well as Pipestone and Murray counties, community news and feature stories. In her spare time, she enjoys traveling, reading, and cooking. More of Alyson's writing can be found at http://throughthelookingglass.areavoices.com.
(507) 376-7322
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