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Deer ticks, the main carriers of Lyme disease, are quite smal
Deer ticks, the main carriers of Lyme disease, are quite smal Globe file photo

Spring is here and with the warmer weather, lots of great things will be happening outside. One of the not so anticipated parts of the warm-up is the increase in tick activity. If you are in your 30s or older, you probably grew up at a time when ticks weren’t really a problem in this part of the country. Over the past several decades, ticks have spread across more areas of the United States and with them come the diseases they carry.

A changing climate plays a key role in why these critters have spread. There is definitely some fluctuation year-to-year in their activity with cold winters temporarily lowering tick activity.

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For example, in Maine the number of Lyme disease cases annually went over 1,000 in 2011 and while it remains high, there was a drop last year. This may have been due to the dry weather in that part of New England.

The blacklegged ticks, better known as deer ticks, tend to thrive in warm and humid conditions and can dry out when it’s hot and dry. Dog ticks also are quite common and the adults can bite humans, especially in spring and summer. Other ticks like the lone star have started to move north and east from other parts of the country. According to the Department of Public Health, here in Massachusetts this tick isn’t a big problem yet, but it could be increasing and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has all of Massachusetts as having seen this tick.

Lone star tick distribution.
Lone star tick distribution. CDC

The lone star tick carries its own diseases, including ehrlichiosis, in which some people develop a red meat allergy and other reactions including rashes similar to those seen with Lyme disease.

You should check for ticks (including pets) anytime you are in an area where ticks might be found. This includes woodland walks, fields, and even while raking leaves in your yard. Deer ticks can be spread by deer, but mice also act as a host so even if you live in an area without deer you could still be bitten by a deer tick.

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Contrary to some myths, ticks do not fly or jump. You must come in direct contact for them to attach to you. It’s generally accepted that if you remove a tick within 24 to 48 hours, the likelihood of contracting a tick-borne disease is small. Personally, I have been bitten by dozens of ticks over the years, but I check myself thoroughly after coming in from the garden and remove them each evening.

Check yourself for ticks daily if you are in tick prone areas.
Check yourself for ticks daily if you are in tick prone areas.CDC

It’s advisable to wear long pants and sleeves if you are going to be in areas with potential ticks and also use insect repellents. Repellants with the active ingredient Picaridin are newer than DEET and won’t damage plastics. Both are effective against ticks.

The weather this spring and summer may elevate or lower the tick population, but it’s guaranteed these unwanted pests are here and it’s time to be vigilant against them.


Follow Dave Epstein @growingwisdom.