Tick season is becoming a year-round threat in Iowa

DES MOINES — The Midwest is seeing a rise in cases of Lyme disease and other health problems associated with ticks, and experts say the trouble is, millions of the tiny insects are now surviving our warmer winters.

Gundersen Health System infection preventionist Megan Meller says now that spring is here, Iowans should start doing tick checks on a regular basis. “Tick season essentially now is moving year-round. I think we previously would think that we would have started looking for ticks once the weather turned warmer in April and May, when we’re spending more time outside,” Meller says, “but this year, we were seeing warm weather back in really from December through January and currently, and even those brief cold spells didn’t kill the ticks.”

The experts say there are more than a dozen species of ticks in Iowa, the three most common are deer ticks, dog ticks and lone star ticks. Meller says some are easier to spot than others.  “If we’re lucky, they’re large and we can find them right away but some of them are really tiny, the size of a dot at the end of a sentence, and if you overlook those, they can also cause an infection,” Meller says. “It’s really important to not just do a thorough tick check on yourself and on your pets and children, but to also take additional preventative measures.”

Those measures include wearing long pants and long sleeves. “Wearing bug spray when you’re outside that repels ticks. It’s closing up your sock line. That’s an easy way for ticks to get up, too. It’s wearing long socks over your pants,” she says. “It’s just being really mindful that as we spend more and more time outside, there are also hidden dangers lurking out there.”

Along with the rise in tick-borne diseases in the region, there’s a silver lining to the story. “We’re seeing a greater push for vaccine development to prevent Lyme disease. So right now, there is a vaccine in Stage-3 clinical trials that has some promising results, so we’re keeping an eye on that,” Meller says. “Hopefully, at some point in the near future, there’ll be a vaccine that helps prevent Lyme disease, so we don’t have to keep worrying about this potential added fear in the woods.”

There’s another tick to be watchful for, especially if you raise cattle or horses in Iowa. The Asian longhorned tick has been found in at least 19 states, including Missouri, but it’s not yet been spotted here.