GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As the bags get packed and the campers cleaned about ahead of the holiday weekend, one thing you’ll want to be extra aware of ticks. They’re worse this year, which you might have already noticed.

The main concern when it comes to these pests is the disease-causing bacteria they can carry with them. The most common in West Michigan is Lyme disease. Experts with the Kent County Health Department say surges in tick populations can be caused by a variety of different things. 

“One of which being milder weather conditions, animal migration patterns. This being the case for not only deer and such but also birds. These things can greatly impact the amount of population you see throughout the year,” said Paul Bellamy, an epidemiologist for the health department’s environmental division.

Historical graphs from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services show the growing risk of Lyme Disease across Michigan.

There are over 20 known tick species in Michigan, but the most common in this region are the American dog tick, which is known to cause Rocky Mountain spotted fever and the blacklegged tick which carries bacteria causing Lyme disease. 

The cases of Lyme disease are expanding. Data from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services showed 128 confirmed human cases in Michigan in 2014, and numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed a total of 276 confirmed cases across the state just five years later in 2019. 

Health experts say it’s important to look closely for ticks if you spend time outside because they can be incredibly small, sometimes the size of a pinhead. To prevent bites, KCHD recommends the following:

  • Wear clothing that covers the arms, legs and feet whenever you are outdoors. 
  • Wear light-colored clothing to spot ticks easily. 
  • Apply insect/tick repellent containing DEET. 
  • Walk in the center of trails to avoid contact with overgrown grass and brush at the edge of the trail.
  • Check yourself, your children and pets thoroughly for ticks by carefully inspecting areas around the head, neck, and ears. Look for what may appear like a new freckle or speck of dirt. 

“If you do find it attached the best thing to do is to take tweezers, get as close to the skin as possible and pull straight up and remove it that way,” Bellamy said. 

“Don’t try any of the home remedies that you see like gasoline or smothering it or other ways. This will actually increase saliva production and potentially cause a higher risk of developing one of the diseases that it might be carrying.”

If someone has been bitten by a tick and is concerned, Bellamy recommends keeping the tick by placing it in a small package, vile, or envelope, labeling it, and putting it in the freezer. You can send the tick in for testing.

You can self-monitor for symptoms. If you get a fever, chills or start feeling tired all the time, he recommends a visit to your doctor.

Traditionally, unless the tick is attached for 24 hours or more, the likelihood of contracting any sort of illness from that tick is very low.