Tick season is here. Protect yourself with these tips

, medical expert
Last reviewed: 14.06.2024

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17 May 2024, 18:23

Tick season is starting, and experts warn there may be as many ticks as last year.

Another mild winter and other favorable factors likely mean the tick population in 2024 will be equal to or greater than last year, according to some researchers.

“The situation is very bad and getting worse,” said Suzanne Visser of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Tick diversity is expanding into new geographic areas, bringing with it unusual diseases. Exotic southern species, such as the Gulf of Mexico tick and the solitary star, are found in New York and other northern states.

What experts are most warning about, however, is the common black-legged tick, which is mostly found in forests and spreads Lyme disease. The peak of incidence begins in May, and US health authorities estimate that nearly half a million cases of Lyme disease occur annually.

Facts about ticks

Ticks are small, eight-legged, blood-sucking parasites belonging to the class of arachnids, rather than insects, that feed on animals and sometimes humans. Some ticks are infected with disease-causing microorganisms and spread them when they bite.

Although there is no exact annual count of ticks, there is scientific consensus that they are becoming an increasingly common health threat in large parts of the United States.

Black-legged ticks—also known as deer ticks because they feed on deer—are one of the most common ticks in the eastern half of the United States. Their numbers were significant for centuries, then declined due to deforestation and deer hunting, and increased again with the resurgence of deer populations and suburban woodlands. Ticks have spread from local outbreaks in New England and the Midwest to wider areas, including the South and the Great Plains.

Tick populations cycle throughout the year and depend on several factors. They prefer warm, humid weather and are more visible after a mild winter. The number of deer and mice available also plays an important role.

Overall, the black-legged tick population has been expanding for more than four decades, researchers say.

"This is an epidemic in slow motion," said Rebecca Eisen, a biologist and tick expert at the CDC.

What is Lyme disease?

Not all ticks are infected with microorganisms that cause disease. Experts estimate that about 20% to 30% of black-legged tick larvae that appear in the spring and summer in the Northeast and Midwestern states carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. P>

Symptoms of Lyme disease usually begin three to 30 days after the bite and may include fever, headache, fatigue and a bull's-eye rash. If you are bitten by a tick and develop symptoms, see your doctor for antibiotic treatment.

How to protect yourself from tick bites

Experts say it's best to take steps to prevent tick bites.

If you go outside, pay attention to wooded areas and places where the grass touches the woods. Ticks typically sit on vegetation at ankle level with their front legs extended, waiting to latch onto an unsuspecting person or dog.

Try to walk in the middle of paths, wear light-colored, permethrin-treated clothing, and use EPA-registered repellents.

How to check for ticks?

When you enter a room, check yourself for ticks. They can be found anywhere on a person's body, but are often found around the waist, behind the knees, between the fingers, under the armpits, in the navel and around the neck or hairline.

They are harder to see when they are young, so look carefully and remove them immediately with tweezers.

CDC does not recommend sending individual ticks to testing services because a person may receive more than one tick bite and the test results may not provide sufficient information.

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