Disease-carrying ticks are a growing problem in rural America, and experts say climate change is a big reason why. "Public health officials say ticks are emerging earlier and staying active longer because of climate change and land use changes, resulting in a rising risk of infection carried by the parasites, reports Melissa Patrick of Kentucky Health News.
"There are more tick-borne disease cases every year," Dr. John Aucott, director of the Johns Hopkins Lyme Disease Clinical Research Center, said during a June 8 Association of Health Care Journalists webcast. "This is an insidious epidemic. It hasn't been as dramatic as Covid-19, so it has crept up on us."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the total number of tick-borne diseases reported to it rose 125% in 15 years: to 50,865 in 2019 from 22,527 in 2004. "These numbers are generally considered to be underestimated because most aren't reported to the agency," Patrick reports. "For example, the CDC estimated that between 2010 and 2018 the number of Americans with Lyme was closer to 467,000 based on an analysis of health insurance records."
As the climate warms, ticks can live longer each year and reproduce more, and hat makes for larger tick populations and expanding tick habitats, Liz Carey reports for The Daily Yonder.
Moreover, the number of tick species that can cause medical problems is increasing, according to Ohio State University extension agent Tim McDermott. "The number of species that are medically important is expanding too, he said. About 20 years ago, he said, there was only one tick species, the deer tick, in Ohio that could potentially make you sick," Carey reports. Now there are five, and they carry everything from Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever to the increasingly common Powassan virus.
Not only are there more ticks in more places and more kinds of tick that can harm people, but a larger percentage of ticks are infected with diseases, says the CDC. "McDermott said while the risk of tick bites is rising, and the number of ticks carrying diseases is high, there are ways to protect yourself," Carey reports. "One way is properly managing tick habitats, through mowing and keeping your yard clear of brush, tall weeds, and grass. Another is to wear appropriate clothing – light-colored, long-sleeved shirts and long pants tucked into socks or boots – and to apply tick repellent on skin, clothing, and footwear."