Share on Pinterest
Several areas have already issued tick bite and Lyme disease warnings this year. Getty Images

Although spring has just begun, tick season is already well underway.

The slew of wet weather seen across the country has ticks crawling out and about earlier than usual.

Seeing as most ticks thrive in warm, moist weather, tick season will likely be especially tough this year, health officials predict.

“While regions across the country were either unseasonably cold or warm this past winter, there’s one factor that almost all of them had in common: excessive moisture,” Jim Fredericks, PhD, the chief entomologist for the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), said in the NPMA’s bi-annual Bug Barometer press release.

“From record-setting snow in parts of Texas and Arizona to excessive rain in the southeast, continued precipitation predicted for most of the country this upcoming season will allow pest populations to continue to thrive and multiply,” he said.

There are several different types of ticks scattered across the country. Each species is known to transmit a different disease, such as Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, spotted fever rickettsiosis, and babesiosis.

Many ticks can carry germs that are harmful to our health, but only a handful actually pose a serious threat. Most tick bites are harmless and won’t cause any physical symptoms.

“While there are a multitude of tick species throughout the world, only a number of selected species bite and transmit disease to people. One of the most important and relevant ones is the tick that transmits Lyme disease,” Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, told Healthline.

Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease in the United States. Each year, approximately 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported in the country.

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) believes that actual number of Americans who get Lyme disease each year may be closer to 300,000.

The bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi causes the disease and is transmitted through the bite of an infected black-legged tick.

Although Lyme disease is traditionally most common in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and upper Midwest, health officials expect the geographic range for the black-legged tick to continue expanding.

Several areas in the United States have already issued tick bite and Lyme disease warnings this year.

Indiana, for example, reported an increase in Lyme-carrying ticks in multiple counties in March.

Pennsylvania is also on watch. The state has, historically, been a hotspot for ticks, with more than double the amount of Lyme disease cases than any other state in recent years, according to the CDC’s Lyme disease surveillance map.

Other parts of the country are seeing an increase in other tick species and tick-borne diseases. Oregon recently reported an unusual spike in Colorado tick fever, a rare tick-borne virus transmitted by the Rocky Mountain wood tick.

There’s also a new type of tick — the Asian longhorned tick — that’s quickly spreading across the East Coast.

Typically found in the Western hemisphere, the Asian longhorned tick was first detected in the United States in 2017. Since then, it’s been spotted in Arkansas, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia.

“The longhorned tick has the potential to carry many other diseases, which could have a devastating effect on the U.S. population. It’s imperative that we devote significant efforts to track its range and ways to contain its further spread,” Glatter said.

While health officials are working hard to monitor this new tick and understand the threat it poses, as of March 25, 2019, no harmful germs had been identified on this type of tick, says the CDC.

Within the past couple of years, tick-borne diseases have skyrocketed, reaching an all-time high in 2017, according to the CDC.

Reports of tick-borne illnesses rose from 48,610 cases in 2016 to 59,349 cases in 2017.

Health experts are unsure what’s causing the trend. Some suspect the uptick is due in part to climate changes. Warmer temperatures may create conditions that are more hospitable for ticks and other carriers of vector-borne diseases, the CDC reported.

“Ticks are being found further north, and this is likely due in part to climate change. But climate change isn’t the only driver,” said Dan Salkeld, PhD, a research scientist with Colorado State University who conducts studies on tick-borne diseases with the Bay Area Lyme Foundation.

For example, surges in Lyme disease and tick populations in Virginia and Tennessee suggest that other factors — such as human residential patterns and land use — may also be at play, Salkeld believes.

Others argue that while tick-borne diseases seem to be on the rise, the higher numbers may simply be a result of higher public awareness and, therefore, increased reporting of symptoms over the years.

Regardless, it’s clear that tick activity is on the rise, and scientists are seeing tick populations spread into new territories at an alarming rate.

First and foremost, it’s important to understand which types of ticks are most active in your area.

“Protecting yourself from getting mosquito and tick bites in the first place is the best way to reduce your chances of developing tick- and mosquito-borne diseases,” Glatter said.

This includes wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants and properly applying insect repellent — ideally one containing DEET — before walking in wooded and grassy areas, Glatter advises.

Glatter also recommends applying a repellent, like permethrin, to your socks, boots, and other outerwear.

If you do notice a tick on your body, remove it as soon as possible. Use a pair of tweezers to grasp the tick as close as possible to your skin.

Avoid crushing or breaking the tick. That can cause pieces of the tick’s mouth to remain in the skin, which can cause infection.

Symptoms of tick-borne diseases typically take a week or two to set in. If you notice a rash or fever, see your doctor and tell them about the tick bite and where it happened. Timely and accurate diagnosis is the key to preventing further complications.

Thanks to unseasonably warm, wet weather seen across the country, tick season will be especially tough this year, say health experts. With record levels of Lyme disease and a new type of tick spotted across the United States, it’s important to understand and prevent tick bites.