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Warm winter leads to earlier tick season

Hollywood, MD- The mild winter weather is being blamed for an early tick season—and Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC are hot spots for Lyme disease.

Adult stage deer ticks are the primary carriers of the disease. According to the Entomological Society of America, based in Annapolis, over the past few years Lyme disease cases have continued to increase across the eastern United States. In fact, a recent study confirmed that ticks carrying Lyme disease were found in many eastern national parks, including two in Maryland and one in Washington, DC.

Researchers from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Park Service (NPS) collected ticks along hiking trails. Blacklegged ticks—also known as deer ticks—were discovered in all nine parks where they were conducting their research. All of the ticks collected were infected with the bacterium that causes Lyme disease.

"We know Lyme disease is increasing both in numbers of infections and in geographic range in the United States," said Tammi Johnson, one of the researchers from the CDC. "This is the first large-scale survey in multiple national parks, and though suspected, it had not been previously confirmed that ticks in many of these parks were infected. It's quite likely that ticks infected with Lyme disease spirochetes are present in other parks in Lyme disease endemic areas, too."

The study’s authors said the discovery didn’t come as a surprise. "These tick-borne diseases occur in this area of the country," continued Danielle Buttke, a study co-author from the NPS. "Having local information about real-time risk can help motivate visitors to reduce that risk."

Researchers said this discovery shouldn’t scare you away from visiting the parks, but it’s important to make sure people are aware of the risks and how they can protect themselves.

The CDC and the NPS provided a list of the best prevention methods:
• Use repellents that contain 20-30 percent DEET on exposed skin and clothing.
• Use products that contain permethrin on clothing.
• Shower within two hours of leaving a tick-prone area to wash off ticks that may be crawling on you.
• Check yourself for ticks and remove attached ticks.
• Dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill any ticks on your clothing.
• Check pets and gear for ticks.
• Hike in the center of trails.
• Avoid sitting down or leaning on logs or bushes along the trail.

Buttke said, "Tick-borne diseases are preventable and treatable. They are a serious public health problem, but the burden of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and poor mental health is so much greater, and all have the potential to be improved by being active in the great outdoors."

The nine parks the researchers studied were:
• Acadia National Park (Mt Desert, ME)
• Catoctin Mountain Park (Thurmont, MD)
• Fire Island National Seashore (Ocean Beach, NY)
• Gettysburg National Military Park (Gettysburg, PA)
• Manassas National Battlefield Park (Manassas, VA)
• Monocacy National Battlefield (Frederick, MD)
• Prince William Forest Park (Triangle, VA)
• Rock Creek Park (Washington, DC)
• Shenandoah National Park (Stonewall, VA).

It’s also important to know the general symptoms of Lyme disease.
• Achiness
• Chills without rigors
• Dizziness or fatigue
• Low-grade fever
• Numbness and swollen glands in the neck and groin
• Stiffness, sweating, or thirst
• “Bull’s-eye” rash at the location of the bit

Contact Joy Shrum at j.shrum@thebaynet.com

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