Both winter and spring this year have been wetter than usual, especially in the eastern and midwestern parts of the U.S. What does this mean for us, aside from an uptick in seasonal allergies? Apart from all of the sniffling and sneezing, we can also likely expect more ticks this summer, why means we’re all at a greater risk for Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.
Christopher Rallis of the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture told U.S. News and World Report that it can be difficult to predict tick populations from year to year, because of the changes in weather patterns. But he noted that in 2016, a drought caused tick numbers to decrease, while a wet spring caused numbers to increase in 2017.
Other experts look at mice and chipmunk populations. In New York’s Hudson Valley, ecologist Rick Ostfeld saw a decrease in mice and chipmunks, so he doesn’t expect a high tick crop.
Still, types of ticks and tick-related diseases vary by region, and certain areas like the East Coast, Mid-Atlantic and Midwest are statistically worse for Lyme disease than others. But it’s important to remember that even if you do not live in an area that is tick-prone, you may be traveling to one. And just because the winter was cold, it doesn’t mean that hearty ticks didn’t survive it.
Read on to learn more about where risks of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases are highest, and how to protect yourself and the ones you love.
Reported Tick Diseases Are On The Rise
The CDC recently released a Vital Signs report detailing the rise in vector-borne diseases (those from mosquitoes, fleas and ticks) between 2004–2016. Tick-borne diseases more than doubled during this time period, and accounted for 77 percent of all reports. Lyme disease was by far the most common, but a certain type of spotted fever, a parasitic infection called babesiosis, and two types of tick-borne bacterial infections (anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis) also increased. These stats only account for reported cases, so the numbers could actually be much higher.
Where are the danger zones? Tick-borne diseases are much more common along the Eastern and Pacific coasts. For Lyme in particular, 95 percent of all reported cases in 2015 came from 14 states, 10 of which are in the east coast region: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.
You should also be aware that there are different types of ticks found all over the world, but only a small selection of them actually bite humans. The CDC recorded the seven most common human-biting ticks in North America, the most prevalent being the brown dog tick, the American dog tick and the black-legged tick. Of these, the black-legged tick — also known as a deer tick — transmits the most diseases, including Lyme disease.
The American dog tick (pictured below) and brown dog tick both transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
How To Tick-Proof Your Back Yard
Pesticides: If you’re comfortable using pesticides around your house and in your recreational areas, it can help reduce the number of ticks. But you shouldn’t rely on this method alone to protect yourself. Also, make sure to check with local officials about what or when you can spray pesticides.
Tick Bait Boxes: Sometimes also called tick tubes, these actually lower the number of ticks around your home by treating their preferred hosts — like chipmunks and mice — with insecticide. If you’re not thrilled with the idea of spraying your yard with pesticides, this may be a better, more targeted option.
Remove Hiding Spaces: Ticks can hide under leaf brush and in tall grass, yard debris or old furniture. Make sure your grass is cut frequently and that you keep your yard and perimeter tidy.
Discourage Movement: Ticks can hitch a ride on animals like deer, mice, stray dogs and more. Keep ticks from traveling into your yard by constructing fences. Try adding a gravel or wood chip barrier, and keep wood piles neat and dry.
Stay Away from the Edges: If you live near woods or areas with a lot of brush and tall grass, make sure to keep your most-used outdoor areas — like play sets and patios — away from the outer edges of your property.
Tick Deterrents: If you’re looking for more natural tick deterrents, you could consider planting American beauty berry bushes, which have a reputation for turning ticks away. Chrysanthemums also contain a tick fighting compound, as do essential oil-producing herbs like lavender and sage.
Beyond plants, chickens and other birds eat ticks, so having a bird-friendly yard can be helpful in controlling the number of ticks, too.
How To Protect People And Pets
Protecting your yard is only the first step. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to eliminate exposure to ticks entirely, so it’s also important to protect yourself directly.
Treat Your Pets: Talk to your vet about preventive treatments for your dogs and cats. Dogs are more prone to tick bites and diseases because they typically spend more time outdoors. Also make sure to check your animals thoroughly every time they come inside and remove ticks right away. If you do find a tick, check in with your vet for signs of illness to look out for based on your area.
Treat Yourself: You probably already know that you should always wear bug spray when spending time outdoors, but make sure that it contains EPA-registered ingredients like DEET, oil of lemon eucalyptus or picaridin. You can also treat clothing and backpacks with permethrin, which is a great option if you plan to spend time in wooded areas:
Avoid Hiding Places: Even if you’ve prepped your yard, you may still encounter tall grass or bushy areas around your neighborhood or on a hike. Try to steer clear and walk near the center of paths, sidewalks or trails.
Check Yourself And Your Family: When you come indoors, check yourself and your family thoroughly. If you’ve been in an area that could be tick-infested, it’s a good idea to take off and launder clothes, as well as taking a shower. Taking a shower within two hours of tick exposure not only gives you a chance to examine the body for ticks, but it can also reduce the risk of tick-borne diseases.
Have you ever found a tick on yourself or a family member? What steps have you taken to prevent tick exposure?