Warm winter launches early deer tick season URI tick expert predicts ticks will be abundant in 2000

KINGSTON, R.I. — March 22, 2000 — The warm winter weather in the Northeast this year has caused deer ticks, the tiny arthropod responsible for transmitting Lyme disease and other illnesses, to become active earlier than usual. According to Thomas Mather, professor of entomology at the University of Rhode Island and director of the University’s Center for Vector-Borne Disease, ticks found at this time of year are almost certain to be deer ticks. “With the early onset of spring-like weather, we’ve received a number of reports of people here in Rhode Island finding ticks on themselves and their pets,” said Mather. “In Rhode Island, any tick found at this time of year is going to be an adult deer tick. And if you find an adult deer tick on you now, then you are also at risk of getting the tiny nymphal stage tick on you later in the spring or early summer.” The pin-head sized nymph is much more difficult to find and remove. Typically, the peak transmission period for Lyme disease is May through July when the smaller nymphs are active, but adult ticks can also transmit disease-causing microbes and so the early appearance of ticks places people at risk for Lyme disease even now. Mather also predicts that deer ticks will be abundant this summer. “The trend over the last seven years has been clear,” he said. “Every two years deer ticks have been quite abundant. Last year their numbers were down from the previous year, so this year I expect to see an increase, both in the number of ticks and in the number of cases of Lyme disease.” In addition to Lyme disease, deer ticks also carry a malaria-like protozoan that causes babesiosis and a bacterium that causes human granulocytic ehrlichiosis (HGE). Both of these infections cause flu-like symptoms, are difficult to diagnose, and can be fatal. And although Lyme disease cases were lower last year than in 1998, Rhode Island saw a surge in the number of reported cases of babesiosis in 1999. Mather recommends that people who are finding adult deer ticks now should consider hiring a pest control service to apply a tick-killing insecticide around the perimeter of their property and on disease-carrying mice before the harder-to-spot nymphal stage ticks emerge in May. # # # For Further Information: Todd McLeish 874-7892 For more URI news visit: www.news.uri.edu