Acari experts are warning of an impending baby boom in ticks in New England, putting huge numbers of people at risk for Lyme disease and other infections carried by these critters. The plentiful snow and wet spring have given ticks the perfect conditions to emerge in force in the coming weeks as the weather warms.
And, just to make things more alarming, spring ticks tend to be nymphal, meaning that they’re much harder to spot than larger, adult ticks that predominate in fall.
The potential for this to be a bumper year for ticks has led The University of Rhode Island, which operates the Tick Encounter Resource Center, to issue a red alert for the entire Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region. This high alert is due to the number of ticks already found by surveyors in the region, with one researcher in Nantucket finding twice as many ticks this year than last year.
June and July in New England is Boom Tick-Time
The next month is going to be when nymphal ticks begin emerging in large numbers, many of which will be carrying the Lyme disease bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi. Anyone who spends time on trails, in public parks, or in close contact with nature is advised to take steps to prevent being bitten by ticks. Checking for ticks when returning home is also imperative as transmission of bacteria may be prevented if a tick is removed safely within 24hrs of a bite.
However, the chances of spotting a tiny nymphal tick are much lower than of finding an adult tick, meaning that they may remain attached for longer. It is also important to check family members including animals who venture outside, and to take steps to protect property against ticks by deer-proofing, setting up paths that are unfriendly to ticks, and remembering to wear tick-repellent and/or protective clothing even if simply lounging in the sun in the back yard.
Spotting Lyme Disease Early
Knowing the early signs of Lyme disease can help ensure that appropriate antibiotic treatment is administered quickly, reducing the likelihood of long-lasting problems or a stubborn infection. Such symptoms may resemble flu (i.e. headache, muscle pain, fatigue and fever) or acute onset of arthritis, and may occur in addition to or subsequent to the distinctive Lyme disease rash which looks like a bulls-eye or target.
Highest Rate of Lyme Disease in US
New England has long been plagued with Lyme disease and the number of documented cases continues to increase, with almost 1,700 cases last year in New Hampshire. According to the US Centers for Disease Control the state has the highest incidence of Lyme disease in the country. There has also been an increase in tick sightings in Maine, an area where the once cooler climate used to be inhospitable to ticks. Thanks to global warming, ticks are now present in much higher numbers in the area.
Basic Lyme Disease Prevention
The best way to avoid being bitten by ticks is to wear fully enclosed shoes with long socks and pants to form an effective barrier against the pests. Insect repellent can also be used on clothing, and wearing white clothing can help make it easier to spot ticks and quickly remove them. Anyone who has been bitten by a tick should ensure that they remove it quickly but carefully, without squeezing the tick. It is also advisable to store any removed ticks so that they can be tested later should symptoms of Lyme disease or other infection arise. This is also true for any ticks removed from dogs, cats, horses, or other companion animals or livestock.