While some scientists have predicted an explosive tick season this summer, others say a surge is possible, but not certain.
In New York, one lab has already seen a huge upswing in the number of samples sent in by people wanting to know whether the tick they were bitten by was carrying Lyme Disease and other diseases. And that suggests a tick explosion may be upon us, according to a professor with the State University of New York.
Richard Ostfeld, a distinguished senior scientist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York, explained one reason for the potential uptick: A bumper crop of acorns two years ago which led to an exceptionally abundant crop of white-footed mice — the preferred host of black-legged ticks in their larval stage.
Another factor that makes this year particularly worrisome is there’s nary a white-footed mouse to be seen.
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“On a forest plot where there typically might be 100 to 200 mice, we’re having zero or one,” Ostfeld told TODAY.com. “That’s really stark. The reason that’s an issue is that when there are a lot of hungrier-than-usual nymphs are out, they may be more apt to crawl onto a person’s ankle.”
Research conducted by the Illinois Tick Inventory Collaboration Network, however, hasn't found solid evidence that tick activity is higher than usual, explained Rebecca Lee Smith, an associate professor of epidemiology with the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois.
Smith said that researchers are hearing anecdotally, and through community science projects, that tick activity has increased. The professor explained that "high humidity of this spring could create conditions for high tick levels, although the higher temperatures could counteract that."
As summer approaches, Illinois health officials are urging residents to check themselves and loved ones for tick bites while outside. They've also created a surveillance map - making it easier to track the insects throughout the state.
Once you visit the link, click on the type of tick in the taps at the top. A map will appear, showing where the insect type was reported or established in statewide counties.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, people should check themselves, their pets and their children for ticks after spending time near wooded areas, tall grass and brush.
Here are some tips to avoid bites:
- Walk in the center of outdoor trails, avoiding wooded, busy areas with high grass and leaf litter
- Wear light-colored clothing, which make ticks easier to find. Tucks pants into socks and boots, if possible
- Apply an EPA=registered insect repellent "containing 20% DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus according to label directions"
- Conduct full-body tick checks on family members every two to three hours. Check gear or pets, as well
- Put clothes in the dryer on high for 10 minutes -- or one hour for damp clothes -- to kill ticks
- Bathe or shower within two hours after coming indoors
- If you find a tick on yourself, IDPH recommends keeping the insect for species identification. Place the tick in rubbing alcohol or in a sealed container and bring to a health care provider
For information on removing ticks and symptom identification, click here.
Along with Lyme Disease, ticks may carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia, Ehrlichiosis and Babesiosis, according to health officials. Removing ticks within 24 hours of a bite can reduce the risk of these diseases.
Should a person become ill with a fever or rash after being in an area where ticks are commonly found, the individual should contact a health care provider. Health officials warned that some tick-borne illnesses can be life-threatening.
For more information, click here.