Ticks are back; Eastern Connecticut is a Lyme disease hotspot

While most of Connecticut is busy staving off possibly deadly mosquitoes, lurking ahead is a familiar insect enemy: the deer tick.

October and November are one of the peak seasons for adult deer ticks, which transmit Lyme disease, said Goudarz Molaei, a research scientist and director of the Passive Tick Surveillance and Testing Program at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station.

“We are bracing for another tick season that is going to start,” Molaei said.

Adult deer ticks are also active in April and May. The nymphs, an intermediate stage between the larvae and adults, have their peak season in June. Lyme disease can only be passed on by the adults or nymphs, not the larvae.

Windham, New London and Tolland counties all remain hotspots for both human cases of the disease and infection rates among deer ticks, according to Molaei, who has published his findings with colleagues in a recent article in the journal of Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases. Lyme disease is named after the town of Lyme, where the symptoms of the disease were first documented in the 1960s and 1970s.

While cases in Windham and Tolland counties have remained relatively stable over the last few years, the number of cases in New London County appears to be on a recent uptick. New London County had 387 cases in 2018. In 2017 there were 268 cases, up from 250 the previous year. That was down from 421 in 2015.

Molaei cautions reading too much into the reported figures. He says that only a tenth of cases are actually reported, according to CDC estimates, making it hard to draw conclusions from the official figures.

The average infection rates among the adult ticks, however, is on the rise. In general, the rate of infection has hovered around 32 percent. But last year it was 38 percent.

Windham, Tolland, and New London counties are among hotspots for Lyme disease in the state because of the ecological profile of rural communities in them, Molaei said. First, the area allows for the free movement of deer. Second, it has wooded areas where ticks thrive. It also is home to many small rodents such as the white-footed mouse, from which the deer tick larvae pick up the Lyme disease bacteria.

The mice give the disease to the deer ticks and the deer help spread the ticks.

“All these have converged,” Molaei said, providing a “perfect” setting for all these factors to come together.

Among those who are gearing up for tick season is the Northeast District Department of Health, located in Brooklyn.

“The Northeast District Department of Health does quite a lot of tick-borne illness prevention education,” said Linda Colangelo, the education and communications coordinator.

She said the busiest times for tick education are the spring and fall. Her agency fields requests from senior centers, schools, and towns to do educational presentations on the issue. Although there are peak seasons, ticks can be active as long as temperatures are above 40 degrees. That means that residents should be vigilant year-round, Colangelo said.

The medical community remains divided on its approach to Lyme disease. Some view it as a temporary acute illness. Others see it as a chronic disease with debilitating effects that can last a lifetime. The division over treatment is all the more reason to avoid getting the disease, Colangelo said.

“It’s far better to avoid getting than to get it and deal with the disease itself,” Colangelo said…

 

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