What You Need to Know About Ticks and Climate Change

BY ON April 10, 2017

Sign alerting people that ticks are in the area

On a cool day this past weekend, I spent some time at a friend’s house meeting their new puppy. With snow still covering a few spots on the ground, this adorable little pup couldn’t stop running in circles and digging in the snow. He joined their family a few short weeks ago and they’ve already removed over 25 ticks from his furry little body, with the number continuing to go up as the springtime temperatures rise.

If you spend time in the great outdoors, or are a pet owner, it’s hard to ignore the significant increase in the tick population over the past few years. With climate change translating to unpredictable weather patterns and warmer temperatures, the tick population is thriving and multiplying faster than ever before. Shorter, warmer winters are enabling ticks to survive for longer periods of time and flourish in new areas of the country.

The warmer temperatures are also known to cause an upsurge in mice which could be a good indicator that the tick population and Lyme disease are on the rise. Mice are known to harbor many ticks and infect the larvae that cause Lyme disease. If the mice population increases the year before it can be a good predictor that the incidence of Lyme disease the following year will continue to rise.

Ticks can attach to any part of the human body, but are often found in the groin, scalp and armpits. In most cases, a tick must be attached for 36 to 48 hours or more before Lyme disease can be transmitted. While all ticks bite and survive on blood, not all ticks carry Lyme disease. Blacklegged ticks, or deer ticks, are the main carriers of the disease which can cause a rash, fevers, arthritis, headaches, and facial paralysis

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “…the incidence of Lyme disease in the United States has approximately doubled since 1991, from 3.74 reported cases per 100,000 people to 7.95 reported cases per 100,000 people in 2014.” This year is expected to be a particularly risky year for Lyme according to Rick Ostfeld, who has studied Lyme disease for over 20 years and is an ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York.

There are a few things you can do to keep the ticks at bay and reduce the chance of developing Lyme disease.

  • After you and/or your kids come in after spending time outdoors it’s always a good idea to do a thorough tick check.
  • Find a safe, non-toxic, DEET-free tick repellent to apply before heading outdoors.
  • Take a lint roller with you on a hike. Use it every so often to do a full sweep of your clothing.
  • Wear light-colored clothing so you can easily spot a tick.
  • Wear long pants and long-sleeved tops and tuck your pants into your socks if you know you’re going to be in an area where ticks could be lurking.
  • If there are ticks on your clothing, throw them into the dryer on high heat.
  • If you do find a tick make sure to remove it immediately and completely with a pair of tweezers.

LEARN MORE about what to do if you’ve been bitten by a tick and Lyme Disease from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

LEARN MORE about ticks and climate change from the Environmental Protection Agency.

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TOPICS: Children's Health, Climate Change, Heat and Extreme Weather