On June 20 we celebrated the summer solstice, marking the beginning of summer and the favorite season of both outdoor enthusiasts and, unfortunately, ticks.
Over the past two decades cases of tick-borne illnesses have increased rapidly across North America and Europe. Reports of Lyme disease, the most common tick disease among humans, have more than doubled since surveillance began in 1991, and previously rare diseases, such as babesiosis and anasplasmosis, have become far more commonplace.
Ticks transmit the greatest variety of pathogenic microorganisms than any other arthropod vector, including mosquitoes and fleas. Although this rise in reported tick-borne illnesses is partially attributable to improved surveillance, experts agree that an increase in the abundance and geographical range of this miniscule arachnid also plays a significant role.
The potential influence of climate change on vector-borne diseases has been vehemently debated ever since Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” made headlines across the fifty states (and beyond). And while some argue Gore’s claims far-fetched, scientific evidence does prove an association between rising temperatures and ticks’ ability to survive in higher altitudes. Additionally, while warm and humid conditions may shorten their lifecycle, it also increases their reproduction rate. This factor, accompanied by the exploding deer population and therefore an increase in viable hosts, all contributes to an over-abundance of disease-carrying ticks.
Nevertheless, it is important to remember that other influences, including changes in land use and human behavior, such as partaking in more recreational outdoor activities and travel, also likely contribute to this epidemic.
Ixodes ticks, or deer ticks, have been under particular scrutiny, since they are the carriers of some of the best known and most dangerous diseases, including: Lyme disease, babesiosis, and anaplasmosis. They are endemic to the northeast and upper midwest of the United States.
More information on each specific disease is provided on the following websites:
Lyme disease: http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/