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Now is the time to protect against Lyme disease

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WILLMAR -- As summer activities get ready to start, the risk of tick-borne diseases is at its peak.

While Kandiyohi County is only a moderate-risk area, most people will visit a high-risk area at some point this summer, whether it be for camping or other outdoor activities.

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Dave Neitzel, a Minnesota Department of Health epidemiologist who specializes in tick-borne diseases, said the department identifies the areas from the Twin Cities to Duluth and up to Bemidji as the areas with the worst tick problem. While the Willmar area is on the edge of the recognized risk area, Neitzel said residents should still be on alert.

"The wooded areas of Kandiyohi County are a very good home for blacklegged ticks to survive," Neitzel said. "Once you start heading west into the farmland, though, they're not going to survive in fields of corn and soybeans, so you lose the risk in a hurry."

Neitzel said some years the tick problem is worse, and in recent years, the state has had a series of record years for tick-borne disease cases.

"Last year was an exception," Neitzel said. "We had a dip in the number of cases, which can be blamed on last year's hot and dry weather, which causes ticks to shrivel up and die."

This year is expected to be different, Neitzel said.

"We had a late start to tick season because the snow delayed it," he said. "Now they're out and feeding in force. June is expected to be the worst month, so now is the time to take precautions."

The best way to minimize the risk of contracting Lyme disease or other tick-borne diseases is to avoid blacklegged tick habitats from mid-May to mid-July, according to the Department of Health. Blacklegged ticks, previously known as deer ticks, live in wooded, brushy areas.

Other tips to avoid ticks include walking in the center of a trail to avoid picking up ticks from grass and brush and using a good tick repellent. Repellents containing either permethrin or DEET are recommended by the Department of Health.

The most common tick-borne disease is Lyme disease. According to the Department of Health, Lyme disease is transmitted from the bite of an infected blacklegged tick. A blacklegged tick must be attached for one to two days in order to transmit the Lyme disease bacteria.

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