Tick population, Lyme disease infections surge as predicted
DARIEN — In mid-April, around Easter and Passover, southern Connecticut experienced unusually warm temperatures soaring into the eighties. But around that same time, Darien also experienced a more pesky problem: a surge in ticks.
“Easter weekend was an absolutely beautiful weekend warm weather,” said Darien Director of Health David Knauf. “Everyone was outside and so were the ticks. The Monday after Easter, people started coming in with ticks to be tested. Prior to April, we didn’t have many ticks come in, but after Easter and especially in May, there was an unprecedented amount of ticks presented to us.”
The increased number of ticks was not unexpected after the mild winter Connecticut saw.
Even before Easter hit this year, state officials reported seeing higher tick numbers and Lyme disease infections statewide. On April 17, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station said they’d already received over 450 ticks to be tested for Lyme disease and almost 38 percent had tested positive for the illness.
Knauf said that as of August, the Darien Health Department has submitted 133 ticks for testing on behalf of Darien residents. While numbers peaked in April and May, they’ve petered off in the summer months. Still the number of ticks submitted to far this year, he said, is equivalent to what was sent during the entirety of 2016.
Knauf added there are no particular trends pertaining to where ticks are being found, but he said they are commonly found near wooded areas where the deer they latch onto can be found.
“There is no place in town where I could say you need to be more careful,” he said. “But they tend to be at the edge of woods.”
Tick removal kits are available to Darien residents from the Department of Health, located in Room 109 at Town Hall, 2 Renshaw Road. The Health Department is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
According toGourdaz Molaei, a research scientist for the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station and director of the Connecticut state tick testing program, these numbers will double by the end of 2017. He also said the infection rate has gone up dramatically.
“This sample size is rather low,” he said. “But this is quite consistent with results we’re getting from other regions in our state. The infection rate in our state is at about 38 percent as compared to the average of the last several years of about 28 percent.”
Molaei said the increase in tick infection rates can be linked back to a surge in the population of white-footed mice, the primary carriers of the Lyme bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi. The mice population has grown thanks to warmer winters, which are a result of climate change.
“Climate change is impacting not only ticks...it impacts our behavior in regards to how we expose ourselves to tick bites,” Molaei said.
Despite the increased number of ticks infected with Lyme disease, Knauf said there have been no cases of Lyme disease in town so far this year. Last year, two cases were reported in Darien. However, Knauf said he’s certain people in town have contracted the disease but simply haven’t been tested for it,
“Our test results are very, very low,” he said. “We don’t have that many reported cases because the labs simply don’t test for it. That doesn’t mean people aren’t getting Lyme. It just means we don’t have the test results to confirm that. It just isn’t reported.”