If you think the recent snowfall will help to reduce tick numbers this spring, don’t get your hopes up.
The snow will actually aid ticks as it provides a layer of insulation over the forest floor they inhabit, allowing them to emerge in full force once spring arrives.
Michele Cassetori, director of education and outreach for the PA Lyme Resource Network, said she hasn’t seen anything this winter that could have impacted tick numbers. Even the stretch of bitter cold temperatures in December wasn’t enough, she said, because it was too short of a span to kill ticks.
So what’s in store for trout anglers, gobbler hunters and everyone else ready to head outdoors this spring?
“I personally think we’re in for another significant year,” Cassetori said. “Unless we get a long stretch of extremely cold temperatures, I don’t see anything that will cause a drastic decline.”
Cassetori’s prediction is just another reminder that dealing with ticks is a way of life for anyone who enjoys the outdoors.
“Ticks are definitely part of our environment now,” she said. “Ticks are here to stay.”
But the presence of ticks, and the threat of Lyme disease, doesn’t mean we should shelter inside when the weather warms up. Cassetori said it’s possible to live with the threat and even reduce the risk with a few simple preventative measures.
Cassetori, of Plains, has presented the Dare 2B Tick Aware seminar — which is a collaborative education effort by the PA Lyme Resource Network and state Department of Health — to numerous groups in the area. The free program focuses on types of ticks and their habitat, the diseases carried by the insects and means of prevention for adults, children and pets.
Cassetori has more seminars planned and she expects to stay busy with the program for a long time.
Part of the reason why ticks are thriving, she said, is a lack of predators. Urban sprawl forced out much of the wildlife that preys on ticks — everything from birds to opossum. And a large deer population in those areas has given the pests plenty of host animals. Even an increase in the coyote population has played a role since the large canines chase out red fox, which is a major predator of the white-footed mouse.
In fact, the current Lyme disease epidemic in Pennsylvania — which has led the country in number of confirmed Lyme disease cases since 2011 — can be blamed on the white-footed mouse, which has flourished in areas due to a lack of predators.
According to Cassetori, ticks become infected with the Lyme bacteria primarily from the white-footed mouse and, to a lesser degree, chipmunks. Deer simply act as a host for ticks but don’t carry the specific bacteria that cause the disease.
An infected tick can pass on Lyme disease during any of its four life stages, not just as an adult.
Lyme disease, and other diseases carried by ticks, are transmitted to people and pets as the tick sucks blood from its host while regurgitating fluid at the same time.
“Lyme disease bacteria lives in the gut of the tick, so it takes a bit longer to get in you,” Cassetori said. “The longer a tick is on you, the greater the risk.”
Cassetori covers the transmission process and other topics in her seminars, and the information has opened eyes.
Gary Gronkowski, president of the Nanticoke Conservation Club, said his group hosted Cassetori because their members are active in the outdoors with hunting, fishing and conservation programs. It’s common for club members to find ticks while outdoors, he said, and Cassetori’s seminar highlighted the significance of the threat.
“The thing that hit home with everybody is children are the number one risk for Lyme disease, and that can be from just playing in the yard,” Gronkowski said. “You don’t have to be a hunter or angler to be at risk.”
Still, Cassetori doesn’t want people to be scared to go outside and said it’s still possible to enjoy the outdoors in spite of ticks.
Prevention is the key, she said, such as treating shoes and clothing with permethrin which can reduce the risk by 70 percent.
“I always tell people, don’t be afraid but be aware,” Cassetori said. “It’s important for people to recognize that ticks are out there and prevention is important. Now is a good time to think about it.”
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky