Put on a long sleeve shirt and load up on some pest repellent, because tick season in Pennsylvania is expected to get progressively worse year after year.
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of Lyme disease cases, and Penn State Urban Entomologist Steve Jacobs said that’s because of an increasing tick population.
“The only thing I can say for certain is that, across Pennsylvania for the last 25 years, we’ve been trending having more ticks in more places,” he said. “That will continue.”
According to Jacobs, much of Pennsylvania’s forest land was wiped out in the 1800s to produce charcoal to fuel iron production. Because of the deforestation, the deer population dropped. With their environment gone and their food source depleted, the ticks died off as well.
But, because of recent environmental efforts, Pennsylvania’s forests have bounced back, along with the ticks.
“This is not a new species,” Jacobs said. “It’s not a new disease. That organism’s been around a long time. We’ve basically helped ecologically the environment here in Pennsylvania, and we brought the ticks back.”
Some experts believe this year’s harsh winter will cause tick populations to feed late into the summer, but Jacobs said it’s too early to tell.
“The very cold temperatures we had probably had minimal, if any impact on these ticks,” he said.
Regardless of the temperature, Jacobs expects Lyme disease cases in Pennsylvania to continue climbing as the tick population booms.
“It’s just a matter of time for ticks to be carried into new areas and if there are suitable conditions right there, then a population will start,” he said. “That population will then, over time, continue to grow and then you’ll get some movement out of that population deer, or a bear, or other mammals carrying them.”
Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is known to be carried in one of Pennsylvania’s most common ticks: the blacklegged tick, formerly known as the deer tick. Initial symptoms of the disease include headache, fever and nausea. If untreated, Lyme disease could lead to debilitating cardiac and neurological conditions.
According to Jacobs, the best way to prevent tick bites is to cover any exposed skin when in a wooded area, apply tick repellent and perform thorough body checks.