DOVER, Del. — No matter where you live in America, ticks are a part of life.
“There's an abundance of them,” said Delaware state epidemiologist Kristen Rios. “They're hard to see, they're hard to spot— and that's a problem in itself.”
Ticks can carry and spread diseases to humans, like Lyme disease, among others.
Dr. Ashley Kennedy, a tick biologist for the state of Delaware, collects ticks from state public lands and national wildlife refuges to see where they're most abundant.
Kennedy collects the samples by running a white cloth over the foliage.
Delaware is one of the top states in the nation for ticks and the cases of Lyme diseases that come with it. The state recently launched a web page where tick encounters could be reported.
Now, though, other states are joining the tick fray.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, when comparing the number of confirmed Lyme disease cases in 2001, versus 2019, there has been a huge growth in cases in the Northeast— and a greater spread into states like Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin and Minnesota.
What’s behind the growth?
“Climate change likely plays a big role in that,” Kennedy said. “The trend has been towards milder winters. So, the ticks are better at surviving them, which is allowing them to really explore new territory, carve out a bigger distribution.”
That’s not all. Scientists are now investigating something new with ticks.
It’s called Alpha-gal syndrome. Carried by Lone Star ticks – called that because of the white dot on their backs – their bite is causing an unusual reaction in some people.
It’s making them allergic to meat.
“Those symptoms can be anywhere from itchy hives, or a rash, to swelling of parts of the face or indigestion, heartburn,” Rios said. “It's very rare, but we are seeing more cases of those pop-up.”
There are ways to protect yourself. Experts recommend applying insect repellent containing DEET.
Wear long sleeves and pants when possible, they said, as well as light colors, so you can easily spot ticks. It’s also important to make sure to do a tick check when you come in from the outdoors.
If you find one, keep it simple, experts say: use a pair of tweezers to remove it.
Also, don’t forget your pets.
“I try and check my pets regularly, too," Kennedy said. “And you want to remove the tick as soon as you find them because the longer they're attached, the more likely they are to transmit a pathogen either to you or to your pet.”