“This year, there are worse ticks than many of us have ever seen in our lives,” says Janet Foley, an epidemiologist at the University of California Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
Ticks are roaming American forests in greater numbers this year than any in recent memory leaving thousands of humans at risk for lyme disease, say public health officials. And things could get much worse through the summer if weather conditions remain humid, spelling trouble for the people who roam in their habitat.
The prevalence of ticks—and the diseases they carry—has been on the rise in recent decades as reforestation and climate change expanded the range of the eight-legged bacterial vectors. Public health officials have attributed the pervasiveness of ticks so far this year to warm winter conditions that allowed an unusually large number of rodents and mammals to survive and act as hosts to ticks.
The growth in tick numbers—both this year and in recent decades has caught the attention of public health officials in the affected states and at the highest levels of government. “Millions of Americans seek care for a tick bites each year in the United States and despite that very few of us are equipped to answer the questions,” said Anne Schuchat, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in a presentation earlier this year. “The reported cases of tick borne diseases are increasing. The range of ticks that can carry diseases is expanding. The number of tick borne diseases that we’re aware of is increasing.”
The high tick populations translates into increased risk for humans, who can be infected by bacteria and viruses carried by the arachnids. Lyme disease, the most common ailment passed through ticks, affected more than 25,000 people in 2015 primarily in the Northeast and northern midwest. That’s up from just over 10,000 two decades prior, according to numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The disease, which causes fever, headaches and fatigue, can spread infections to the heart and nervous system if not treated properly.
“We have more ticks than ever before. Is this going to be a worse year? It’s already more than bad.”