Learn Why Tick-Borne Diseases Are Increasing in New England During 2021 & How to Protect Yourself
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought everyone outside for socially distanced fun but spending time outdoors during the summer and fall can bring its own set of risks.
Hospitals across New England are seeing an exponential rise in tick-borne disease cases amidst the 2021 tick season.
In the Northeast and more specifically the New England area, ticks remain active until temperatures hit 35 degrees Fahrenheit or lower.
Ticks reach peak activity during the spring and summer months, typically from April to August. But if the temperature remains warm, tick activity can last into the fall.
This year’s tick season, however, appears worse than what we’ve encountered in previous years.
Reports from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH) indicate emergency rooms throughout the state are seeing higher numbers of tick-borne disease visits in 2021 than those of the past three years.
The state of Connecticut also reported an alarming increase in ticks during late April and early May of 2021. The increase in ticks includes several species that are new to the area — the lone star tick, the Asian longhorned tick, and the Gulf Coast tick.
In New Hampshire, an official health alert issued by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services (NH DHHS) warned residents of both the statewide and national increase of tick-borne disease cases, particularly Lyme disease.
Lyme disease, according to the NH DHHS, currently accounts for 82% of confirmed tick-borne disease cases in the United States.
Considering the severe rise in tick-borne disease cases in 2021, it’s important New Englanders understand why tick-borne diseases are increasing and the factors causing this phenomenon.
It’s also important for residents to have a clear understanding of how to protect themselves and their loved ones from ticks and tick-borne diseases.
The Rise of Tick-Borne Diseases in New England: How It’s Happening & Why
Tick-borne diseases have been on the rise in the U.S. for several years, but the explanation as to why tick-borne diseases are increasing is complicated.
Surveillance reports from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) dictate that the recorded number of common tick-borne disease cases skyrocketed from 48,610 cases in 2016 to 59,349 cases in 2017.
For Lyme disease, the number of cases in the U.S. has more than tripled within the past two decades, from 12,801 reported cases in 1997 to 42,743 in 2017.
The staunch rise in reported tick-borne illness-related cases indicates the factors behind why tick-borne diseases are increasing at a substantial rate.
But ultimately, there are several main reasons for why tick-borne diseases are increasing. These include:
- Increase in native ticks and non-native tick populations due to climate change.
- Shifts in human population density resulting in increased exposure to ticks and tick-heavy areas.
- A rising number of germs responsible for carrying tick-borne illnesses.
These factors are explored in more detail below.
Increase in Ticks & Expansion of Non-Native Tick Populations into New Territories
Non-native ticks are venturing into new areas, thus increasing the chances of tick-borne illnesses and infection. As a result, areas that previously saw very little or no tick-borne disease cases are facing an alarming emergence of cases.
Areas once considered low-risk but are now experiencing an increase in ticks and tick-borne illness cases include counties in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and North Central regions.
Although it’s still too early for experts to tell, many suspect that changing climate patterns like rising temperatures and humidity are causing significant ecological and environmental disruptions.
In turn, such disruptions have resulted in a stark increase in ticks throughout certain parts of the country.
For instance, some tick species such as the lone star tick, which used to be found primarily in the Southeast, have expanded its territory. The lone star tick can now be found in the Northeast and Midwest regions of the U.S.
Last year, the Connecticut State Department of Public Health (CT DPH) cautioned residents of an acute emergence of the lone star tick throughout New Haven and Fairfield counties.
This non-native tick is considered to be aggressive. It’s also known to bite humans and is associated with several diseases, including tularemia, Bourbon virus, ehrlichiosis, and others
Lone star ticks are recognizable by the singular, star-shaped marking on its back.
Recent studies also discovered that saliva from the lone star tick can cause an allergy to red meat in some individuals. This allergy is called alpha-gal syndrome (AGS). While severity of AGS varies, extreme allergic reactions are life-threatening.
As the lone star tick population within the region rises, so does the allergens and diseases the pest carries — making the tick even more of a nuisance for residents in the New England area.
Apart from Connecticut, the CT DPH warns of an increase in lone star ticks in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.
And the lone star tick isn’t the only species expanding its territory. Recently, foreign ticks have become a growing concern within the U.S as well.
Between 2017 and 2021, Asian longhorned tick and Gulf Coast tick populations have moved into multiple states, including Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Both the Asian longhorned tick and the Gulf Coast tick carry a disease known as rickettsiosis.
Rickettsiosis is a type of spotted fever in which patients develop target-like rashes on the body. They can also experience nausea and fever. If left untreated, rickettsiosis can be fatal.
Growing Human Populations in Tick-Heavy Areas
While climate change may be causing a northward expansion of non-native tick species, there is another reason as to why tick-borne diseases are increasing within the New England region.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) research on Lyme disease cases indicates the climbing rise of tick-borne illnesses is also because of shifting population densities in tick-heavy areas.
Due to nationwide population growth between the 1990s and the mid-2000s, people moved from cities and settled into more suburban or rural areas. In turn, towns and counties within high-risk locations grew.
For instance, the number of counties established in high-risk areas in the Northeast and upper Midwest of the U.S. have tripled since the 1990s.
Within the Northeast alone, the number of high-risk counties went from 43 in 1993 to 182 by 2012.
Consequently, the heightened human exposure to ticks explains why tick-borne diseases are increasing in those areas.
Rise in Germs Responsible for Carrying Tick-Borne Illnesses
An additional factor as to why tick-borne diseases are increasing is the rise of germs responsible for tick-borne illnesses.
Between 2004 and 2021, six more germs were discovered to be able to spread tick-borne diseases.
These germs are:
- Borrelia mayonii: Discovered to cause Lyme disease.
- Borrelia miyamotoi: Able to spread tick-borne relapsing fever (TBRF).
- Ehrlichia muris eauclairensis: A bacteria responsible for Ehrlichiosis.
- Heartland Bandavirus: Known to cause the Heartland virus, which is similar to Ehrlichiosis.
- Rickettsia parkeri: A recently discovered transmitter of Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF). and other spotted fever diseases.
- Rickettsia species 364D: A germ that transmits spotted fever diseases like rickettsia pox.
Combined with humans’ heightened exposure to tick-heavy areas, this increase in tick-borne germs has caused tick-borne illnesses to rise exponentially.
Disease-Transmitting Ticks That are Native to New England
Although there are different species of ticks found throughout the U.S., the two most common in New England are deer ticks — also called blacklegged ticks, and dog ticks.
Deer or blacklegged ticks are extremely prevalent in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. So, residents need to be mindful of non-native species in addition to native tick species plaguing their property.
Even though they’re no bigger than a sesame seed, deer or blacklegged ticks are primary transmitters of Lyme disease, babesiosis, anaplasmosis, and Powassan virus.
Dog ticks have been known to spread RMSF and tularemia diseases to humans and animals.
Symptoms of RMSF are similar to those of rickettsioses. This includes target-like rashes on the arms and legs as well as nausea. Victims also become feverish.
Like rickettsioses, RMSF is especially dangerous. Death can occur if the disease is not properly taken care of by a medical professional.
For safety, public health organizations like the CDC and EPA encourage residents to know the types of ticks that are native to the region and remain continuously aware of new tick species reported in the area.
Confronting a tick-infested area is not advised as the chances of contracting a tick-borne disease are very high. Property owners should have tick-infested areas treated by a licensed pest control expert who is trained to safely eliminate the threat.
Keep Lawns Tick-Free with Professional Tick Removal Service
As the risk of contracting a tick-borne infection grows in New England, residents should be extra careful when enjoying the outdoors.
Worry-free fun without concern of disease-transmitting pests can be achieved with Catseye Pest Control’s Organic Tick & Mosquito Program.
Under this program, our experienced pest technicians will perform in-depth inspections of the area before creating a treatment plan that is tailored to the property.
Utilizing organic products to treat the infested area, Catseye can help put homeowners and business owners at ease.
The pest control methods used under the Organic Tick & Mosquito Program are environmentally friendly, safe for pets, and safe for children. This is just another way we are committed to protecting your loved ones and your property against pests.
Don’t let ticks ruin your time outdoors. Contact us today to learn how our licensed professionals can take care of these pests — and many others, leaving you with peace of mind.