Wear your hat, spray your clothes: The ticks are back and infectivity is rising

Spring fever isn’t the only fever engendered by the warm weather. Deer ticks are back, and they’re more likely than ever to be carrying Lyme disease and other illnesses. CALS communications specialist Sevie Kenyon asked Extension entomologist Phil Pellitteri about the topic in a recent PodCALS podcast. Listen to it here or read the transcript below.

Phil, the deer tick and the Lyme disease complex, what’s it going to look like this season?

Phil Pellitteri: The one interesting thing is the dryness in the southern part of the state in particular is tough on tick populations. So we had evidence back in 2012 that already the tick numbers were down. The other side of it though that has been a concern for the last eight to ten years is the percentage of ticks that have Lyme disease has increased so that it averages about four in ten in the adult tick population in the state right now. And in the last ten years in particular, the movement of the tick into the southeast part of the state, so basically any county you can find them.

And what’s changing?

Phil Pellitteri: This infectivity rate is much what they have seen out east that over time as it becomes more well-established the infectivity levels go up. The other thing that has changed is there’s other diseases now that we have to keep track of and there’s an anaplasmosis, there’s an ehrlichiosis, there’s a babesiosis, and there’s also a virus that potentially the black legged or deer tick can spread and so it’s more than just Lyme disease, in the case of the anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis in the past two years we’ve had over a thousand cases in the state.

What do you expect going into this summer?

Phil Pellitteri: The main thing about this tick, it’s tick season any time there’s no snow on the ground. And so very shortly they’re going to be active and it will not stop until we get into late November, early December of this year.

What kind of precautions should people take?

Phil Pellitteri: The deer tick is basically an animal that lives in the woods, and so if you are crawling around in the woods you’re in their territory. I really think it’s well worth the effort to use some of the clothing sprays. And what’s so important with these diseases is it takes the tick a number of hours, in some cases as long as two days of feeding on you to transmit. So that’s why we preach after you go for a walk in the woods, you do a tick check and remove any ticks. But then again the thing about these clothing sprays is that if the tick walks on a treated pair of pants it will die, and so it really isn’t a repellant, it is a caracide, it’s a killer. And used effectively, it should be a hundred percent protection.

Could you describe the life cycle of the deer tick?

Phil Pellitteri: Females lay between two to four thousand eggs after they’ve done a feeding. That’s why they are taking the blood of the host is to have enough protein to produce all these eggs. They hatch into a little, tiny tick that’s called a larvae and it only has six legs like an insect. They feed on a wide variety of animals, but seem to prefer rodents. They molt their skin, they transform into the nymphal stage. The nymphal stage is the one that seems to be the most prevalent in feeding on people. The nymphs are active pretty much in the middle of summer and that’s when a lot of people seem to have acquired Lyme disease. And if you go from the time the egg is laid until we see adult ticks that usually show up in October of the following year it is a two year life cycle.