I spent a lot of time outdoors on my most recent vacation, a week-long trip to northern New Hampshire where the main objective was to enjoy the scenery and relax.
This was fairly easy to do, given the natural splendor that surrounded us.
The house we rented was tucked away in the woods, and overlooked a grassy yard abutting a river. I spent every afternoon running around in the yard with my son and then cooling off in the river.
It was wonderful — marred only by the ubiquity of a potentially harmful summertime pest.
I’m talking about the tick — the small, blood-sucking parasite that can carry harmful diseases.
Reports indicate that this is shaping up to be a bad year for ticks in the Northeast — and that if you spend any amount of time outside, you should get in the habit of checking your body and clothing for ticks.
“It’s just really, really bad this year,” Brian Leydet, a professor at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse who studies ticks, told the news site NewYorkUpstate.com.
That matches my own experience, and also what I’m hearing from friends and family.
Until my vacation, I hadn’t found a tick on me in decades.
During my week in New Hampshire, I found two, and I wasn’t alone.
Other family members reported finding ticks, and as the week went on I realized that a once-rare event had become depressingly common, that the tick check had become a routine and necessary part of enjoying the great outdoors.
The problem with ticks is that they can make you sick, and the data indicate that the number of tick-borne ailments reported in the U.S. is on the rise.
According to the state Department of Health, New York has averaged more than 5,500 new cases of Lyme disease each year since 1986, “with numbers increasing in recent years.”
New York is an especially bad state for tick-borne diseases, with more than 69,000 reported between 2004 and 2016. The only state that had it worse: Pennsylvania, with over 73,000 cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Of particular concern: The geographic range of some disease-carrying ticks is expanding.
One study found that the number of counties in the northeastern and upper midwestern United States that are considered high risk for Lyme disease increased by more than 300% between 1993 and 2012.
That’s a lot — and it helps explain why more people are contracting Lyme, which in most cases is caused by the tiny black-legged tick, or deer tick.
As for why the black-legged tick is expanding its territory, that’s complicated.
Experts believe there are a number of factors at work, such as the hotter, wetter weather caused by climate change and the reforestation of areas that used to be farmland.
While Lyme is the most common tick-borne illness in the U.S., there are a number of other, lesser-known illnesses that can be transmitted by tick bites, such as babesiosis and anaplasmosis.
Ticks are not something I used to spend a lot of time thinking or worrying about, but times have changed.
They are a growing and serious health threat, and while I’d still encourage people to spend time outdoors this summer, I’d also suggest keeping an eye out for ticks. We can protect ourselves from these nasty little pests, but it requires more vigilance, and greater awareness.
Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.