Tick-borne illness has exploded in North America over the last ten years with reported cases of Lyme disease and other tick spread infections sky rocketing, why though? What has been changing over the last ten years that could have such a dramatic effect on the rapid spread of an entire species and the resulting rapid spread of tick infection in areas that were previously considered to be uninhabitable by ticks? The most likely answer is a warming climate. Warmer winters have allowed more ticks to survive into summer and tick populations to thrive in environments that were previously too harsh for them.
This is not the first-time science has connected the warming climate to the resurgence and spread of an infectious disease. Cholera made a resurgence 20 years ago, researchers connected its revitalization to warming global temperatures and a subsequent rise in aquatic parasites. These parasites were responsible for careering the Vibrio cholera infection and spreading it to migratory fish. The fish increased the geological reach of cholera and the danger it posed to humans leaving public health officials unprepared for larger scale infection.
Between flooding, fires, and drought, climate change provides enough to prepare for without having to factor in the spread of infectious disease but it is, unfortunately, part of the equation.
A team of international researchers is looking at how the changing climate is affecting the world we live in and they have found that North America, especially in the Northern United States and Canada, is seeing increased susceptibility to Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Information out of Canada has shown a more than 600% increase in Lyme disease infections since 2009 and a spread of tick-borne illness from the southernmost area of Canada in the early 2000s to areas that were considered too cold to ever support tick populations. The research team hypothesizes that migrating birds have contributed to the spread of ticks allowing them to hitch rides to areas they could not previously reach and the warmer climate allowed the ticks to survive and build a population in those areas.
Regardless of the cause climate change is here and it is important for us to be prepared for its repercussions. Tick populations are increasing and spreading increasing the danger of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illness infections. Don’t let yourself be caught off guard, wear long sleeves and pants when hiking and in wooded areas and always check for ticks when you get home. Lyme disease usually takes 24-48 hours of the tick being attached for it to pass to the host and early treatment is the best way to prevent chronic Lyme disease. Stay safe out there and have fun.