As the warmer weather sets in, getting outside is on the top of many people’s to-do list. This is even more true with the COVID-19 crisis that has rendered other popular pastimes off-limits in most places. With fewer indoor pursuits to enjoy, many people have turned to the great outdoors to get out of the house and into the sunshine.
When you partake in outdoor activities such as hiking, nature walks, and lounging in parks, the risk of getting bitten by a tick increases. The risk of contracting Lyme disease is also heightened by a potential delay in health care for those who do happen to get bitten by a tick.
With hospitals and medical centers fighting COVID-19, other issues that seem small in comparison may be put on the backburner. But despite these seemingly sound indicators of a bad tick season ahead, some experts believe that it could actually be quite mild. So what does summer 2020’s tick season look like, really?
When is tick season?
Although there is a year-round risk of being bitten by a tick, the months to pay the most attention are March–June and August–November. These two periods are associated with the highest number of tick bites.
From March through June, ticks in the nymph stage are generally active if they survived the winter. They need to find sustenance to get them through the rest of the season (and their life stages). They are highly active when the weather begins to warm. From August to November, new ticks begin to hatch and look for hosts so that they can be one of the lucky ones that makes it through to next spring.
Although they can be active year-round if the temperature is mild, the adult ticks that are typically found feeding into the fall will generally lay low if the weather becomes too cold. Cold weather also provides plenty of snow, which is theorized to provide a layer of insulation that ensures the tick population’s survival to the following spring.
What makes a bad tick season?
Having an overabundance of ticks in any given area can be reason to call it a bad tick season, but a tick bite is just another animal bite unless that specific tick is infected with Lyme disease or any other tick-borne illness. Lyme disease is incurable, and can only be treated with antibiotics. The bacteria that causes Lyme disease can also live through a heavy dose of antibiotics and lay dormant within the body, causing chronic Lyme disease. That is why it’s important to note what makes a bad tick season.
Generally, the more rapid and widespread the disease is in ticks, the worse the season is. Many ticks contract Lyme disease by latching onto diseased animals and then becoming a host for the bacteria. When this occurs, they are free to pass the disease onto anyone or anything else they feed on.
Are ticks bad this year?
New research on tick populations for this year has shown that a specific species of mouse known to host the bacteria that causes Lyme disease and spread it throughout tick populations was actually lower in numbers last year. This means that the spread of Lyme disease among ticks is likely lower than it has been in previous years.
Next year’s tick season is a different story, though. Since the number of rodents has increased this year, it could result in a more abundant tick population the following spring, because there are more mice hosts for the nymph ticks to latch onto and contract the Lyme-causing bacteria from.
What’s causing heightened tick risk this year?
Even though there may be less ticks than previous years, and even less infected ticks due to the lowered white-footed mouse population last year, the risk for contracting Lyme disease in 2020 is still higher than some may think.
This is mainly because of the aforementioned measures being taken in regards to COVID-19. The virus itself doesn’t have anything to do with tick season, but the recreational activities that are left on the table with lockdown measures in place could mean that people are spending more of their time in tick-ridden areas than in previous years.
How to avoid a Lyme infection
Taking the proper precautions to protect yourself against Lyme disease will be even more important this season, because of the heightened access ticks will have to new hosts and deprioritized access to medical care in situations involving only mild symptoms.
Wearing loose, light-colored clothing, checking yourself for ticks when returning from the outdoors, and monitoring symptoms closely if a bite occurs is the best bet to avoid contracting Lyme disease.