Written by Joan Lownds, Hersam Acorn Newspapers
Monday, 20 February 2012 08:01
After a spectacular opening act with the “Halloween snowstorm,” this season’s winter has mostly been a no-show. The warm snap has been a boon to the town public works department, and for energy savings — but the trade-off could be a bumper crop of ticks later this year.
“The mild winter is causing ticks to stay active, and they are not usually active in the winter,” said Dr. Kirby Stafford, state entomologist. “We may see an increase in tick activity in the spring, but next summer we will see the highest peak of risk — with possibly the most ticks we have seen for the past two years.”
During a typical winter, freezing temperatures and snow cover causes less active behavior among ticks, he said, although there is usually a certain amount of tick activity during a “January or February thaw.” This year, the continued mild temperatures are expanding this stretch.
Also, Stafford said the current mice and rodent population is “very healthy,” and this may also fuel a rise in the numbers of ticks.
“Ticks in their immature stages feed on rodents such as mice and chipmunks,” and the robust population is provide fertile feeding grounds.
This could further spike the tick population next summer and fall, he said.
Adult ticks feed on “deer, or us, or our pets,” Stafford said.
According to a report by the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University at its website, the winter of 2011-12 is one of the warmest and least snowy on record, with temperatures averaging around five degrees warmer than usual.
State researchers have already seen an increase in the number of ticks arriving for study. “This January, we received 23 ticks from all over the state,” said Beth Alves, an agriculture technician for the state. “Last January, we received one.”
In Jan. 2010, researchers received two; and four in Jan. 2009.
The numbers for December 2011, show a “substantial jump,” Alves said. “We received 224 ticks, and the previous year, only 59,” she said. In 2009, 95 ticks came into state labs for testing.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, about one in five collected ticks are infected, and in 2010, more than 30,000 cases of Lyme disease were reported in the U.S.
In Connecticut, 3,068 cases were on record in 2010, with Fairfield County reporting 335, second to New London County, with 350.
Seven case of Lyme disease were reported in Weston in 2010. This shows a decline from 2009, when 18 cases were reported in town.
In 2009, Fairfield County topped the state for Lyme disease, with 699 cases, followed by 579 in New London County. For the state, 4,156 cases were on record.
Alves said the data is not yet available for 2011.
So what precautions should be taken to protect against the probable, upcoming increase in tick activity?
“Wear socks, long pants and use a tick repellent with permethrin,” Stafford said.