Well, I started this post in January and have been too sick to finish it—but with what sounds like the biggest snowstorm of the season hitting tonight, maybe it is okay that I am posting this in March.
It used to be that there were few things more satisfying to me than wading into an overgrown flower bed to pull weeds, tame overgrown shrubs, and make space for my plants to thrive.
The photo above shows the flowerbed where I got a tick embedded in my hip one summer. And a bull’s eye rash. With lyme and co-infections.
As you can see, my garden is in a sad state these days.
That’s because last summer and fall I did not have the energy to clean it up—and, quite frankly, I was afraid of ticks. I said to myself, I will feel better in the winter. I’ll clean it up then, when the ticks are gone.
Flash forward to the middle of winter, when I still hadn’t gotten the job done. Then someone in my support group reported that she’d come inside her house and done a complete tick check—in January. In Virginia.
And found a live tick.
I’d assumed that once temperatures dipped below freezing, ticks were done for ‘til spring. Now I know otherwise.
- A study of the lyme-transmitting black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis) published in the Journal of Medical Entomology just last year investigated winter survival in two locations in New York. The finding? Despite winter conditions, more than 80% of the ticks survived.
- A researcher in Rhode Island collected plenty of ticks after a hard freeze, and suggests they must have some kind of antifreeze enabling them to survive in frozen ground.
- Climate change is playing a role. Health officials in many places including Minnesota cite milder winters as one reason for the increase in lyme.
- And here’s a video with expert Dr. Glenn Needham of Ohio State University with specifics about ticks, lyme, and winter.
Clearly, the winter months are not the time to let down your guard or relax your standards when it comes to checking for ticks that might give you lyme and other serious infections. Who knew?
I’m avoiding tick habitat for the most part; I stay out of my garden and away from my woodpile. I’m back to checking for ticks every night when I shower, just like I do in the warmer months. And I’m keeping my dog out of the backyard, too, so no ticks hitch-hike into my home and infect the two of us.
I’m already thinking about spring, when each female tick will produce 1,500 eggs or more, according to the TickEncounter Resource Center at the University of Rhode Island. Their website says tick activity is high in the western U.S. right now, and rising elsewhere as spring approaches. Seems to me there will likely be an explosion in the tick population in many places, since the winter has been mild and presumably more of the tiny creatures have survived.
So I’m working on a list of tips to stay safe. Come back soon to read that post, and in the meantime: Check for ticks.
Tagged: climate change, Dr. Glenn Needham, global warming, Journal of Medical Entomology, Minnesota, Ohio, Rhode Island, study, TickEncounter Resource center, ticks, University of Rhode Island, west, winter