May 27, 2018
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Tick experts urge vigilance in watching for the disease-carrying pests this fall

Victoria Arocho | AP
Victoria Arocho | AP
A female deer tick is shown under a microscope.
By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — Those who monitor Maine’s deer tick populations are calling 2011 an “average” year for the pests, but warn that, especially in the southern part of the state, the ticks still have a high likelihood of carrying serious diseases.

“A fairly high percentage of them are carrying around diseases,” said Dr. Peter Rand of the Maine Medical Center Research Institute’s Scarborough-based Vector-borne Disease Laboratory. “In southern Maine, as many as 60 percent of adults are carrying the Lyme disease bacteria.”

State Rep. Jim Dill, D-Old Town, is a pest management specialist in the University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension program, and he said ticks flourish in wet weather and can be found 12 months a year.

“I think people might be saying, ‘Oh, wow, there are a lot of ticks out this year,’ because they’re comparing it with recent memory, and last year was a down year for ticks because of the hot and dry weather,” Dill said. “But really, it’s been a pretty average year for ticks, if there is such a thing.”

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 752 cases of Lyme disease in 2010, down from 970 in 2009 and 908 in 2008. Dr. Stephen Sears, the state epidemiologist, said the CDC has about 380 Lyme disease cases in its records for this year, but noted that the center’s Lyme numbers can run months behind as doctors from around the state file reports from the spring and summer, when most cases are diagnosed.

Sears said final 2011 numbers will likely be available in March of 2012, and cautioned people who enjoy the outdoors in the fall and winter to remain vigilant by wearing long pants, checking for ticks and using bug spray if necessary. He also said people who see the signature target-shaped rash from a tick bite appear on their body should see a doctor quickly, because Lyme disease is easier to treat the earlier it’s caught.

Dill said the eight-legged bugs tend to crawl up on overgrown grass blades, hang on with their back six legs and leave their front two free to grab onto anything that passes by — like wild animals, household pets or humans. Deer ticks are most likely to be found where forested areas meet grassy areas, Dill said, and he drags an old white towel along the edges of his yard to monitor the tick population around his property.

“I use white just because it makes it easier to see them, and it’s fuzzy, so it mimics the fur of a passing animal to them,” he said.

Rand said that, in addition to carrying Lyme disease bacteria, deer ticks can also be infected with other pathogens.

People can also catch anaplasmosis and babesiosis from the ticks, he said, among other things. The two diseases are often felt through feverish symptoms, Rand said, and both can be fatal in certain circumstances.

Anaplasmosis can be particularly dangerous for the elderly or those with immune system deficiencies, he said, and the malaria-like babesiosis can be severe for individuals who have undergone spleen removal surgery.

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