Tick population expected to surge, and they’re carrying more than Lyme disease, researchers say

Health & Wellness

STROUDSBURG, Pa. (WBRE/WYOU) — May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month.

Lyme disease is transmitted through tick bites, but researchers and educators warn that it’s not the only disease carried by the parasitic arachnids.

This year, the tick population is expected to surge due to a mild winter and early spring as well as abundant rainfall. Also, people who have been getting outdoors because of the coronavirus pandemic are encountering the insects more frequently.

The spring months mark the beginning of tick season. The prime months for ticks are March through June, with a peak in Lyme disease cases typically in June and July.

“All the ticks that tucker down underneath the leaf litter and snow are out seeking a host. So we have a combination in the springtime of many different types of ticks that are active,” said Nicole Chinnici, lab director at East Stroudsburg University Tick Diagnostic Testing.

Lyme disease is transmitted by black-legged ticks, or deer ticks, in the northeastern U.S. and upper midwestern U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The western black-legged tick transmits the disease along the Pacific coast.

While Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease in the U.S., it’s not the only one by far.

Some others listed by the CDC include babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis, southern tick-associated rash illness, tick-borne relapsing fever and tularemia.

East Stroudsburg tests for 17 pathogens related to ticks.

“If you are a physician treating just for Lyme disease, you might not be reaching the underlying causing issue that’s caused by something else, and the treatment regimen may not be effective for that,” Chinnici said.

In Pennsylvania, the Pike County Tick-Borne Diseases Task Force recently did a baseline study spanning the county. Of the 1,000 black-legged ticks tested, 123 ticks tested positive for two or more diseases, with 38% of them testing positive for Lyme disease.

“Lyme disease in Pike County has been a crisis and we can call it almost a health-related issue for a number of years, and this is prior to anything with COVID,” said Chairman Matt Osterberg, Pike County Commissioners. “I was not aware of this six, seven, years ago until some members of the public came to us and said this is a real potential problem and we need to face this.”

Michigan is also seeing a surge in tick populations, reported sister station WOOD-TV. There are over 20 known tick species in the state, including the black-legged tick and the American dog tick, which causes Rocky Mountain fever.

Health experts say if you spend time outside, it’s important to look closely for ticks since the insects can be incredibly small — sometimes the size of a pinhead. Also, they suggest wearing light-colored clothes to make spotting ticks easier and applying insect repellent containing DEET.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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