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Weather is ripe for tick breeding

Entomologist looks at season ahead

May and June are months in New Hampshire when the weather drastically changes from moderately cool to hot, and quick. For residents of the Monadnock region, it’s bearable to be outside again not bundled up to the teeth in winter attire. However comfortable it may be in fewer articles of clothing, though, it doesn’t come without risks.

Warm weather outside coupled with ground moisture accumulated from melted snow and April showers results in a perfect breeding ground for ticks, and that is especially true this year given the relatively recent snowmelt, said University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Entomologist Alan Eaton.

New Hampshire is known for two very common species of ticks: the American dog tick and the black-legged tick (also known as the deer tick) are the two most common in the state, with about 13 other species that are not well-known at this time. Unlike the black-legged tick, tests have shown that American dog ticks are not capable of spreading Lyme Disease to humans, and do not play host to other tick-related illnesses.

Eaton, who specializes in the distribution and biology of ticks, said in a phone interview Monday that New Hampshire ranks third in the nation in most reported cases of Lyme Disease, the most common vector-born disease traced to ticks in the country, per 100,000 people, according to data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most cases in New Hampshire are reported from Hillsborough, Rockingham and Strafford counties, according to the data.

Eaton said that May through June, and sometimes through the end of July, are really the months to watch out for in terms of tick activity because the climate is just right for breeding. The duration of their prominence in the state, however, is determined by weather patterns.

According to Eaton, the region started off the year with relatively high numbers of tick larvae because of the large snowfall that recently melted. The ensuing life cycle will be determined by the weather in southern New Hampshire.

“Drought is tough on gardens, but good [in the fight against] tick-disease spreading,” Eaton said, meaning tick-born diseases can’t spread when ticks are dying off. “If we get dry weather, most will die off.”

The reason ticks are largely found in thick brush and tall grassy areas is due to the elevated humidity levels, he noted. That’s why Eaton suggests people avoid places that match this description. Though Lyme Disease is the most common tick-related disease, it is not the only one.

Eaton said that over the past several years, two relatively new tick-transmitted diseases are on the rise, albeit a slow one.

The first, he said, is Anaplasmosis, which has been reported 19 times in New Hampshire between 2003 and 2008 (the majority of the cases were reported in 2008, signaling a small uptick). People with Anaplasmosis have noted flu-like symptoms about five to 21 days after reportedly being bitten. Black-legged ticks are the vector, while deer and wild rodents are the reservoir, according to Eaton’s published research on ticks, titled “Biology and Management of Ticks in New Hampshire.”

Eaton also mentioned Babesiosis as an emerging tick-transmitted disease. Similar to Anaplasmosis, people reported the majority of the 17 cases of Babesiosis in New Hampshire (between 2003 and 2008) in 2008. Babesiosis is caused by protozoans, or single-celled eukaryotic organisms, that attack red blood cells. Symptoms range from mild to life-threatening, and include fever, fatigue, chills, headache and more, according to Eaton’s published report. The more severe symptoms occur in those who may be immunosuppressed, have had their spleen removed, or are elderly. This specific disease is also transmitted by the black-legged tick.

The question now is how does one prevent exposure to these diseases?

It’s simple, Eaton said. He said the best thing about tick-transmitted diseases they can be stopped.

“Tick diseases are great examples of diseases that can easily be prevented by the victim,” he said.

If one does enter an area with tall grass, he recommends taking some precautionary measures first. Eaton said tucking pant legs into socks also helps keep ticks away from getting to the skin. There are some insect repellents that have chemicals for keeping ticks away as well. And for people who spend a great deal of time outdoors, there are tick chaps and mesh clothing available for purchase.

If a tick does bite, it generally takes about 24 hours to transmit the Lyme Disease bacteria into the body. So monitoring and removing ticks promptly are both crucial steps.

“If people check themselves daily, that would reduce the risk of disease greatly,” Eaton said. “If you avoid being bitten, you’re OK.”

To learn more about tick prevention, diseases and/or Alan Eaton and his published works, visit the UNH Cooperative Extension website at http://extension.unh.edu and search for Alan Eaton.

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