Ticks, mosquitoes arrive with warm weather
Spring is in full swing, and while it may be a time for picnics, park visits and other activities in the great outdoors, it’s also a prime time for disease-carrying pests.
According to experts, ticks that carry Lyme disease and other illnesses are out in force. In a few weeks, the state will begin trapping and testing mosquitoes for diseases, including the West Nile virus.
It’s too early to know exactly how big a problem ticks or mosquitoes will be, but they’ll likely be a significant menace, said Dr. Theodore Andreadis, director of the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven. Andreadis said that’s particularly true of ticks.
“People often ask me whether it’s going to be a bad tick season, and my answer is, ‘It’s always bad,’ ” he said.
Several different kinds ticks can carry a variety of illnesses, the best known is probably Lyme disease.
Lyme disease is caused by a spiral bacterium called Borrelia burgdorferi and is spread to humans through the bite of black-legged ticks. Symptoms can include fever, headache, fatigue and a characteristic “bull’s-eye”-shaped skin rash. If left untreated, the illness can have serious consequences.
Connecticut residents have been submitting ticks for testing. As of Wednesday, 1,356 ticks had been submitted, said Goudarz Molaei, a research scientist for Agricultural Experiment Station’s Department of Environmental Sciences and Center for Vector Biology and Zoonotic Diseases.
Of those, Molaei said, 907 ticks have been tested and “infection rates in black-legged/deer ticks for the pathogens responsible for Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis stand at 44.6 percent, 13.7 percent, and 10.2 percent,” respectively.
Andreadis said the num
ber of ticks collected and the percent testing positive for disease-causing bacteria are typical for this time of year.
Ticks that carry disease include black-legged ticks (also known as deer ticks), dog ticks and others. Andreadis said two new species of ticks seem to be spreading into Connecticut
— the lone star tick and the Asian longhorned tick.
The lone star tick is more prevalent in the South, but is becoming more established in Connecticut and other parts of New England. The Asian longhorned tick was detected in New Jersey in 2017 and has since popped up in Connecticut. Last October, the Agricultural Experiment Station reported what was believed to be the first incident of an Asian longhorned tick
biting a Fairfield County resident.
To better understand what ticks are circulating in Connecticut, in April the state launched a new tick surveillance program. Ticks will be collected at 40 sites statewide through October. They will be tested and the species of ticks will be tabulated to help determine which ones are prevalent here.
Mosquitoes on the horizon
But ticks are just one variety of pest that circulate in spring and summer. Mosquito season is on its way, and Andreadis said it could be a rough one.
Starting in June, the state will begin trapping mosquitoes at more than 90 sites across Connecticut and testing the pests for West Nile virus, Eastern equine encephalitis and other illnesses. Most people who contract West Nile don’t develop symptoms, or develop a relatively mild, flu-like illness. However, roughly 1 in 150 people infected with the disease develop a serious or, possibly fatal, illness.
Last year was the worst one for West Nile in Connecticut since the virus was detected here in 1999. It included a record 22 human cases of the mosquitoborne illness, and one death — the first West Nilelinked fatality in the state since 2006.
This early in the season, it’s hard to know whether this year will be as brutal as last year, but Andreadis said it’s a possibility.
“We’ve had a mild winter and a very wet spring,” he said. “Those are two conditions that lend themselves to suggest we’re going to have a really sizable mosquito population.”
A blacklegged tick, known as a deer tick, rests on a plant.