The unusual weather this spring could bring serious health worries over the next few months. Mosquitoes and ticks are out and that means the diseases they carry, like EEE and Lyme disease, could be more of a concern.
Alan Eaton, an entomologist with the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, said everything is going to depend on the weather. Regular rain and warm temperatures could add up to a healthy insect population.
Ticks, which carry Lyme disease, appear to have survived well through the winter and could pose a serious problem in a few months.
The black-legged tick or deer tick, which has been active for about a month, won't reach peak activity until June.
But so far, Eaton said, he expected there will be a large population of ticks.
"At this point, things are proceeding along normal lines," he said.
There wasn't a lot of snow or long stretches of cold weather this winter, both of which would have killed the tick population, Eaton said.
The American dog tick, which begins its activity in May, could appear even earlier this year, thanks to the warm temperatures. Eaton said the deer tick has been seen a few weeks ahead of schedule this year.
But even though there is an abundance in ticks, Lyme disease won't really peak until June and July. That's when the nymphs are most active, Eaton said.
The nymphs are smaller and harder to see, which makes them more dangerous.
"They have the ability to spread disease faster and more quickly to their host," Eaton said.
The state is scheduled to release 2009 Lyme disease data later this week, but Eaton said he expects to see a decrease in the disease from previous years.
However, that's not necessarily related to the number of ticks.
June was a rainy month, which may have caused people to spend less time outside and less time in areas vulnerable to ticks, he said.
Last month's rain and the recent unusually warm temperatures have caused another problem. The mosquito population has an overwhelming supply of standing water in which to breed.
Several local communities are taking action earlier than usual this year by starting to control the bug starting next week.
"If we have warmish temperatures interspersed with rain, that's going to be bad news," Eaton said.
Mosquitoes carry the EEE virus, which means there could be a high risk for that disease later this summer and fall.
But the weather plays a big role in determining the tick and mosquito populations. A long stretch of dry, hot weather could decrease the populations.
"That will shut them down quick," Eaton said.
But not all diseases come from insects.
The state Department of Health and Human Services issued its annual rabies warning yesterday. Although the disease is rare in humans, about one or two cases nationally a year, it can strike wild animals.
Although the number of rabies cases dropped in New Hampshire last year, health officials warn the numbers might not tell the whole story.
Last year, 35 animals tested positive for rabies. In 2008, there were 58 animal cases in the state.
"I'm not sure that's due to anything specific," deputy state epidemiologist Jodie Dionne-Odom said.
She said the state might have tested fewer animals than it did in previous years.
Rabies is easily treatable with prophylaxis, but it's better to avoid it. More than half of the humans infected are children under the age of 12.
"It's better not to approach wild animals or to let them into your home, even if it's cute," Dionne-Odom said.
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