Tick populations are booming this spring following an unusually warm winter across the eastern United States.
The University of Rhode Island TickEncounter Resource Center, which performs a crowdsourced tick survey across America, lists a high tick encounter index across the Eastern states. Deer ticks, which are known to carry and transmit Lyme disease, are the most prevalent types of ticks biting in the New England and mid-Atlantic states, according to the resource center.
"A mild winter, coupled with a warmer and wetter spring, may lead to larger-than-normal tick populations," Dr. Jim Fredericks, chief entomologist for the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), said.
"Since ticks are cold-blooded, temperature impacts their activity. In general, ticks are less active when temperatures are cold and more active when temperatures are warm," Fredericks said.
Usually cold winters and fluctuations in freeze-thaw cycles can help reduce the number of ticks that are able to survive, Fredericks said. This year, the mild conditions across the Northeast have provided ideal conditions for increased tick activity during the spring thaw.
According to AccuWeather Meteorologist Edward Vallee, El Niño was the biggest driver in causing anomalous warmth in the East during winter.
"Due to the warm waters in the eastern Pacific Ocean during El Niño, the atmospheric pattern across the East was conducive to above-normal temperatures," Vallee said, adding that temperatures averaged 4-8 degrees above normal in Eastern cities during meteorological winter (Dec. 1 - Feb. 29).
Following a mild March, it was unusually cool in early April.
"Typically, spring [thaw] gradually occurs in the East through the end of March and April from south to north," Vallee said. "This year, it was a very warm March, but things have slowed down due to a cold beginning to April."
It normally takes a very long cold spell without any snow on the ground to knock back a tick population, Charles Lubelczyk, a field biologist at Maine Medical Center Research Institute stated in a Press Herald article.
Warmer weather is expected for the second half of April, according to Vallee.
While spending time outdoors enjoying spring warmth, people should be aware of the risks that ticks pose and take proper precautions.
Here are some tick prevention tips from the NPMA:
1. Apply an EPA-registered insect repellent designed to repel ticks.
2. When hiking, stay in the center of trails, away from vegetation.
3. To have a tick-free yard, keep grass cut low and remove weeds, woodpiles and debris that can attract ticks.
4. After outdoor activity, take a shower and perform a tick check.
5. If a tick is found on the skin, use a slow and steady pull to remove it and not break off the mouthparts and leave them in the skin. Wash hands and the bite site thoroughly with soap and water. To dispose of the tick, flush it down the toilet or wrap it in a tissue before placing it in a closed receptacle.
6. Learn and be aware of the symptoms of tick-borne illnesses, such as lyme disease. Consult with your doctor immediately if you believe you are ill following a tick bite.