Data suggests 2017 could be a high-risk year for Lyme disease in the Northeast, thanks at least in part to warm winter weather.
Two ecologists, Felicia Keesing and Rick Ostfeld, told NPR that last summer’s “mouse plague” in the Hudson River Valley signaled a more serious problem to come.
While Lyme disease is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks, more commonly called deer ticks, the scientists said one key predictor for the disease is the number of mice in an area the year before.
Mice transmit Lyme disease efficiently, infecting up to 95 percent of all ticks that feed on them. More mice mean more infected ticks the following season.
Lyme disease can cause fever, rash, joint pain, fatigue and at times serious joint and nervous system complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention record around 30,000 cases every year, but not all cases are recorded and the agency believes the number could be much higher.
The CDC reports cases of Lyme disease have about tripled since 1995, as climate change has expanded the range, risk and activity of deer ticks. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, deer ticks are mostly active and reproducing at temperatures above 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows that in 2016, New York state recorded average temperatures of 2 degrees above normal. Though 2 degrees may not seem significant, the change is considered “much above average” by the weather reporting agency.
Steven J. Welch, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Buffalo, told the Times in late February that during 2017 the Watertown area had only experienced a total of four consecutive days in which the high temperature remained below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
New York state saw 3,252 confirmed cases of Lyme disease and another 1,062 probable cases in 2015. New York is considered a “High Incidence State” by the CDC with a three-year average of 16.2 cases per 100,000 persons.
In 2015, 95 percent of all confirmed cases were reported from 14 states in the Northeast and Midwest according to the CDC, including New York.
Health officials suggest adding a tick-check to one’s daily routine this year, whether it’s after hiking or just mowing the lawn. Ticks can be tiny and like to hide in places like the scalp, armpits, behind the ears and in the groin area.
If a tick is found, it should be quickly removed from its host by the head with a pair of tweezers.
One of the earliest signs of Lyme disease is a rash at or near the site of the tick bite. Other early symptoms to looks for include joint pain, chills, fever and fatigue.
If contracted, the sooner Lyme disease is treated the better, so don’t hesitate to see a medical professional.