AUGUSTA – The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) encourages Maine residents and visitors to remain vigilant against tick bites this winter, as the number of Lyme disease cases continues to rise and ticks remain active above freezing temperatures.
According to a June 20 Time magazine report, “From 2020 to this year, I would say it’s a 100% increase in the number of ticks humans have encountered,” said Saravanan Thangamani, professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at SUNY Upstate Medical University who tracks ticks and tick-borne diseases across New York.
The Maine CDC reported a record number of Lyme disease cases so far in 2023, with 2,706 cases as of Dec. 7. The next highest number of Lyme disease cases was 2,175 in 2019. In 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Maine CDC reports the number of Lyme disease cases went down to 1,121. The next year, the number started to increase again; there were 1,510 cases in 2021. The Maine CDC has also reported a record five cases of Powassan in 2023.
At least since 2019, the highest infection rate occurred in those 65 and older.
According to Time, climate change leading to warmer winters is one of the major reasons ticks and Lyme disease have increased.
Deer ticks can be active any time the temperature is above freezing, so the risk of tick bites stretches through the winter. To help limit exposure to ticks and tick bites, the Maine CDC recommends those enjoying the outdoors take these “Tick Free ME” steps:
• Know tick habitat and take precautions in areas where ticks may live.
• Wear light-colored clothing that covers the arms and legs, tuck pants into socks.
• Use an EPA-approved repellent like DEET, picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus on skin. Use permethrin on clothing.
• Check for ticks daily and after any outdoor activity. Check family members and pets too.
• Remove clothing when you get home and put it in the dryer before washing. Use high heat for 10-15 minutes to kill any crawling ticks.
Deer ticks can also spread the germs that cause anaplasmosis, babesiosis, Powassan, and Hard Tick Relapsing Fever. Common symptoms of tickborne diseases include joint and muscle pain, fatigue, chills, fever, headache, and swollen lymph nodes. People with Lyme disease may also have a “bullseye” rash anywhere on their body, not only at the site of the tick bite. If you experience any these symptoms, talk to a health care provider.
To learn more about staying Tick Free ME, visit www.maine.gov/lyme.
To view tickborne disease data on the Maine Tracking Network visit data.mainepublichealth.gov/tracking/tickborne.