Ticks are back -- and they're hungry

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Ticks are back -- and they're hungry


By David Perry, dperry@lowellsun.com

Ticks, those blood-feeding parasites, are preparing to engorge themselves for another year. The tiny pests make the most trouble in June, July and August, but they're emerging already.

And year by year, the tick population increases, threatening to spread disease and outdoors angst.

While preliminary numbers indicate there was actually a decrease in cases of Lyme disease in the state last year, the tick population is increasing, experts warn.

"The tick population is generally increasing because the population of deer herds is increasing," says Stephen Rich, a tick expert who heads the Department of Plant, Soil & Insect Sciences at UMass Amherst. "So we see more and more ticks every year."

Winter weather -- warmer, colder, dry or wet -- has little to do with it, he says.

"We're typically seeing around 4,000 cases of Lyme disease a year," says State Epidemiologist Al DeMaria of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. "We would see around 300 cases 15 years ago."

DeMaria says ticks "are spread all over the place, spread across the state."

As of April 10, preliminary DPH numbers for Massachusetts showed 3,837 reported cases of Lyme disease in 2009, compared to 3,946 cases in 2008, which, in turn, was a 10.4 percent increase over 2007.

"But we won't have final numbers for months," DeMaria says.

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