EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 19, 2012

There are more ticks around this spring

By Cara Hogan

There will be no recreation nature walks this summer in Plaistow because of the high risk of tick bites.

"We're not doing that much in the woods this year," Plaistow recreation director Carli Malette said. "We want to keep the kids safe and Lyme disease is always a big concern. Basically, we're going to struggle."

The mild winter helped a lot of ticks survive — good news for them, not so good for humans and dogs.

"Most ticks have two-year life cycles and there were relatively good numbers going into the winter," said Alan Eaton, an entomologist with the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension. "We had a mild winter, which contributed to good tick survival. Then the snow melted early and it warmed up early, which triggered very early activity."

The only thing stopping this year from being even worse is that the weather has been dry, he said, which can kill off ticks.

"If we had regular rain and more of it, we would have even higher numbers of ticks active and looking for hosts," Eaton said. "We'll see what happens from here on in. The riskiest time of year is June."

The risk posed is posed by tick-borne disease, according to Jodie Dionne-Odom, deputy state epidemiologist with the Department of Health and Human Services.

There were 1,287 cases of Lyme disease in New Hampshire last year, she said, the second highest rate in the country.

"Our highest year was in 2008, when we had 1,598 cases, but we've fallen since then," she said. "Rockingham County has one of the highest rates of incidence of Lyme disease in the state."

In 2010, Rockingham County had 498 cases, down from 585 the year before. About 66 percent of ticks in the area are carrying the Lyme disease organism.

Eaton said there are two new diseases to worry about.

"The same tick that's the principal vector of Lyme disease, the black-legged tick, also spreads two other diseases that are on the rise here: Babesiosis and Anaplasmosis," he said. "A lot of people haven't heard of them, but they're serious. Babesiosis is malaria-like and has a higher risk of death than Lyme."

A few local towns are holding tick information sessions to help residents stay safe. David Hunter, a facilitator for the Greater Manchester Lyme Disease support group, will speak to residents on May 2 at the Derry Municipal Center.

"I've been doing talks across the state to get the word out," he said. "There's so much misconception out there about Lyme disease. People need the facts so they can protect themselves."

Take steps to reduce risk

There are lawn sprays to kill ticks living in back yards and other ways to keep the numbers low, according to Sarah MacGregor of Dragon Mosquito.

"Keep the vegetation low on the edge of your property," she said. "Ticks crawl up the grass and hold on with their hind legs and wait for something to sweep by. Keeping grass short is a way to minimize the problem."

Eaton said there are also new tick repellents that have been recently approved for use in the state, other than the well-known DEET sprays.

"A lot of people have never heard of Picaridin, which is just as effective for ticks without some of the side effects that DEET has," he said.

Spray is one of the precautions that Plaistow recreation leaders will use while putting on activities like sports and field trips for about 125 children each week.

"We have tick spray that goes in all the equipment bags for sports teams and comes with all our first aid kits," Malette said. "We're absolutely going to be checking for ticks."

But Eric Bodenrader, director of Derry Parks and Recreation, said they won't be canceling any programming this year, but rely on residents to know the facts.

"We're focused more on education," he said. "Parents need to be cognizant and keep checking their kids after athletic activities."

But as long as people take precautions, Eaton said, there's no need to worry about going outside this summer.

"We live in a beautiful state and we should get out and enjoy it, but with some caution," he said. "Know what to do and how to protect yourself."

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Tick tips

Avoid tall grass.

Wear long sleeves and pants tucked into socks.

Treat socks, ankles and pant legs with tick repellent.

Do a tick check after being outside.

If a tick has attached to your skin for more than 24 hours, contact a doctor.