Tick season is going to be bad, says Dr. Rick Ostfeld, an ecologist with the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in New York. He’s been studying the voracious bugs and their interactions with animal hosts and pathogens for over 30 years.
Ostfeld says that heavy acorn production by oak trees in 2019 led to an abundance of white-footed mice and chipmunks last summer.
“High abundance of these rodents in summer allows the new cohort of blacklegged ticks (The larval stage) to feed abundantly on rodents, which increases the ticks’ probability of surviving and also of getting infected with tick-borne pathogens,” says Ostfeld.
Most people think Lyme disease when they think tick bites, and they’re not wrong. The disease affects about 300,000 Americans each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ostfeld says larvae from 2020 will be emerging as nymphs starting next month and into July.
“So, 2021 will be unusually high risk to people,” he said.
Dr. Lewis First is a pediatric hospitalist at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital. He says that deer ticks are so tiny, people often don’t even realize they’ve been bitten.
He recommends a three-step prevention plan for avoiding Lyme disease.
First says Lyme symptoms generally appear one to two weeks after a bite.
“The telltale symptom is the ‘bullseye’ rash. This means, redness in the center, then clearing, then another ring of redness spreading outward,” he said.
He says that the rash, which is typically flat and painless but may itch, goes away over a period of weeks.
“That — combined with muscle aches, a low-grade fever, headaches and swollen glands — points to Lyme. I recommend that pediatricians lean on the side of caution because Lyme, when caught early, is easily treated in children with a simple, low-risk antibiotic like amoxicillin for two to four weeks,” he said.
But he says that one out of every four or five cases won’t develop Lyme Disease.
“A blood test can result in a lot of false positives and false negatives — and it won’t show up as positive unless you’re four to eight weeks into the disease so it is not usually used to make the diagnosis,” says First.
First says a bullseye rash could also be caused by fungal diseases, such as ringworm, and autoimmune diseases, so the history and other symptoms can help your child’s health care professional determine if it is Lyme disease.
“If you miss the early symptoms, four to eight weeks later, a child may develop a rapid heartbeat, dizziness, palpitations, paralysis of the face — called Bell’s palsy — and possibly more severe neurological symptoms. If it goes untreated for six months, you can get joint aches,” he said.
Even then though he says you can still successfully treat Lyme disease in children with antibiotics.