AS SEEN ON SOUTH COAST TODAY
By Jack Perry / Providence Journal
Posted May 20, 2018 at 5:14 PMUpdated May 20, 2018 at 5:19 PM
The question surfaces around every spring. Will this be a bad year for ticks?
“When you live where ticks do, every year is a bad year,” says Thomas D. Mather, director of University of Rhode Island’s Center for Vector-Borne Disease and its TickEncounter Resource Center.
“It only takes one tick bite to cause a devastating problem in your life,” Mather said.
And there’s no doubt, according to Mather, that people who live in southern New England share their space with ticks, particularly black-legged ticks, which are also called deer ticks and carry Lyme disease.
Mather doesn’t know whether there will be a greater number of ticks this year, but he believes their habitat is expanding
“There are going to be ticks in more places probably this year than last year, and that’s going to expose more people to those ticks,” Mather said. “They definitely are spreading out, not just this year but over 10 years.”
For an explanation, Mather points to the ubiquity of the white-tailed deer, “the principal reproductive hosts” of deer ticks. Ticks will latch onto the deer, suck their blood then drop off when they’re engorged. If they fall into a humid, hospitable setting, the ticks will survive to lay eggs.
“It’s like throwing out a seed,” Mather said.
By studying deer killed by hunters, scientists here have estimated that each white-tailed deer feeds enough adult ticks to produce a half-million new ticks annually, Mather said.
That people don’t have to wander far into the woods to encounter ticks was readily apparent to Mather years ago. In 2012, Mather did a survey, stopping along 20 roadsides in southern Rhode Island to see if could find deer ticks. In 19 of 20 spots, he found deer ticks within a foot of the road.
“I was surprised at how many places I would stop just along the roadside and run into blacklegged ticks,” Mather said.
Tick season has already started in Rhode Island. The website for URI’s TickEncounter Resource Center currently shows a “high” TickEncounter Index for all of New England.
But Mather believes the arrival of tick season took people by surprise because of the cold April weather.
Ticks are especially problematic early in the season because they’re younger, smaller and, Mather said, more difficult to spot. He likens them to stealth bombers.
So now that the weather is finally turning warmer, do we have to stay indoors to avoid tick encounters?
No, Mather says, enjoy the outdoors but take precautions, like spraying your yard with tick repellent, treating shoes and clothing with tick repellent and checking yourself for ticks.
“We can’t let ticks rule our lives. We can take control,” Mather said. “As long as you are vigilant, you take control and know how to be tick smart, you too don’t have to get Lyme disease.”
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