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Home / Health / Ticks that carry Lyme disease survive even frozen winters, research shows

Ticks that carry Lyme disease survive even frozen winters, research shows



Charles Lubelczyk, a field biologist at the Research Center for the Maine Research Center in Scarborough, collects ticks on Monday in Cape Elizabeth. Lubelczyk pulls a textured cloth over the ground to pick up ticks. Staff photo of John Ewing

Maiers may have been through a prolonged winter and snowstorms in March, but researchers believe the hard season had little impact on the deer ticks that carry Lyme disease. The Arachnids have emerged from a hibernate state under an insulating blanket of snow and leaves. Englisch: www.goredsea.com/en_magazine-archiv…december2005.

"The ticks are out and active right now, they are awake," said Charles Lubelczyk, a field biologist at the Research Center for the Maine Research Center in Scarborough.

The deer tick has become a serious threat to public health affecting Lyme and other bacterial diseases such as anaplasmosis and babesiosis. Reported cases of Lyme and anaplasmosis in Maine have increased dramatically in recent years, and scientists suggest that climate change is an important factor in the expansion of the Northern Black Hawk area.

Researchers at the Research Institute are studying how deer ticks experience winter, and recent findings suggest that ticks can survive a severe Maine winter, at least to newer standards, especially when the ticks are covered by leaves and snow.

Over the past three winters, the research institute has partnered with Connecticut to conduct state government field studies. Deer Ticks at outdoor locations in Cape Elizabeth and New Haven, Connecticut, are placed in vials in various locations – with some exposed and others under snow or leaves or both. The ticks were removed from the sites last week, after a winter that was the longest and probably the coldest of the last three, said Lubelczyk.

Preliminary results suggest that ticks perform best under snow and foliage, but this snow is even more important for the deer's survivability than previously thought, he said.

"Snow is very useful for the tick in many ways," said Lubelczyk. "When the snow melts there is a lot of moisture in the soil and that really helps the ticks to keep them healthy."

Chuck Lubelczyk collects ticks that he has picked up with the textured cloth. Scientists have studied how wild ticks hibernate, and recent results suggest that ticks can survive, which is considered a harsh winter in Maine. Staff photo of John Ewing

TEMPERATURE UNDER SNOW: 30 °

Charles Lubelczyk from the Research Center of the Maine Research Center keeps a dog tick, left, and a deer tick. Deer ticks have become a major threat to public health. Photo of John Ewing

Researchers are still investigating the data, but leaves combined with snow can increase the survival rate for deer ticks by only about 10 percent over ticks covered with snow alone. The survival rate for leaves and snow covered ticks is about 60 percent or more, said Lubelczyk, and even exposed ticks that are not protected from leaves or snow survive at relatively high rates, about 30 to 40 percent.

Griffin Dill, Integrated Pest Management Professional at the University of Maine's Cooperative Extension, where the State Tick Identification Lab is located, said during the cold snap in late December when air temperatures hovered near zero for days, researchers found the temperature below that Snow was about 30 degrees, a much better temperature for the ticks.

Reported cases of Lyme disease at the national level have in recent years reached about 35,000 plateau, following a steady increase from the mid-2000s to the early 2010s, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Contraception. However, Maine's Lyme Falls continued to break records in most years.

Apart from a slight decline in 2015, Maine has recorded record numbers of Lyme cases every year since 2011. In 2017, Maine had an all-time high of 1,787 Lyme cases, accompanied by a record 662 cases of anaplasmosis. Anaplasmosis is another disease that is spread by the deer tick, with similar but often more severe symptoms than Lyme. Thirty-two Lyme cases have been reported to March this year, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, but most cases will occur in late spring, summer and fall.

Symptoms can include rashes, swelling, fatigue and neurological problems, such as Bell's palsy.

If early, both Lyme and Anaplasmose, because they are bacterial infections, can be elucidated with antibiotics. However, if left untreated, Lyme disease can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system, and similar long-term health problems may persist after years of Lyme disease, sometimes referred to as "chronic Lyme disease" CDC.

Lubelczyk said that anaplasmosis could also help deer ticks survive the winter. Preliminary studies indicate that ticks infected with Anaplasma produce a glycol that acts as an antifreeze and protects them during the cold.

Impact of climate change

Scientists also point to climate change as a possible reason The extent of the deer tick has expanded to much of coastal and northern Maine over the last 20 years, with warmer winters became the norm. The research institute is also working with the University of Maine to investigate how climate change could affect the deer tick populations.

There is no doubt that the range of the deer tick has extended to most of the state

The weather will play a big role when it comes to the peak season of the ticks – late spring, summer and fall – trains. A dry summer could reduce tick activity, although the ticks are unlikely to die off. In the summer of 2016 there was a prolonged drought, Lyme disease was low, but a rainy autumn brought the ticks back and Lyme disease cases set another record this year.

Charles Lubelczyk puts a deer tick in a container. He said, "When the snow melts, there is a lot of moisture in the soil and this really helps the ticks to keep them healthy." Staff Photo by John Ewing

Dill, at UMaine's Cooperative Extension Service, said Despite the long winter, many ticks are found this spring. "We have been on an equal footing in recent years," he said.

On the Atlantic coast in New Jersey, scientists are worried about the arrival of East Asian ticks. These ticks are reportedly extremely difficult to kill and can transmit the SFTS virus – severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome. SFTS symptoms include fever, fatigue, headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and muscle aches, and in rare cases even death.

Experts are calling on people who go into tench habitats, such as forests and fields, to wear trousers and long-sleeved shirts, to use insect repellents, and to carry out frequent "tick checks" to see if they have taken any ticks while they are are outside. Around the house it is advisable to reduce the number of garden leaves and to look for woodpiles or dead wood where ticks can accumulate.

"It's a boring thing to say, but one of the best things you can do to property is to rake your leaves," said Lubelczyk.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or:

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Twitter: joelawlorph


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