July 30, 2009

Minn. health officials warn of tick bites

Two tick-borne diseases are emerging in Minnesota, prompting state health officials to urge caution when vacationing in the state's outdoors.

Health officials said dog ticks and deer ticks -- both in ample supply in Minnesota -- are carriers of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Powassan disease, respectively, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Thursday.

A Minnesota child died earlier in July from Rocky Mountain spotted fever although health officials didn't provide details about the death.

This recent fatality and the high number of American dog ticks in our state underscore the need to be aware of this serious disease and to prevent bites from any kind of tick, said Melissa Kemperman, a vector-borne disease specialist with the Minnesota Department of Health.

Powassan disease, caused by a virus spread by deer ticks, can cause swelling of the brain known as encephalitis, similar to the mosquito-born West Nile virus, health officials said. Two Minnesota cases were found in Cass County, in the state's northern lakes region.

Minnesota is nearing the end of its primary tick season, but people should be cautious and know the symptoms of tick-borne infections, Kemperman said.

A lot of people who developed a tick-borne disease never actually saw the tick that bit them, she said.