MAINE, Maine — Maine's brilliant foliage season is underway, drawing more people outdoors to hike and hunt. But experts say fall is also the most active time of the year for deer ticks, which carry Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.
So far this year according to the Maine CDC, there have been 862 cases of Lyme, 531 cases of anplasmosis, and 146 cases of babesiosis, the most common tick-borne diseases. This time last year, there were more than 630 cases of Lyme.
Crisp and cooler temperatures are luring more people to the leafy trails at Wolfe's Neck State Park in Freeport. Susan Scheffer and her family are avid hikers. They know that deer ticks carry Lyme disease and other infections. And they're now seeing more of those ticks during their walks ... which is why they always have repellent on hand. They also take other precautions.
"As soon as we get in the car we check ourselves and we comb the dog's hair and my hair always, just to make sure," Scheffer said.
Griffin Dill runs the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Tick Lab in Orono. He says deer activity is ramping up as the young ticks known as nymphs, which emerge in the summer, turn into adults.
"As we move into fall we are going to see that adult stage again. They have had multiple opportunities to feed on an infected wildlife host, and then be infected itself," Dill said.
Dill says the number of adult deer ticks will increase over the next several weeks, and that's expected to continue until temperatures drop below freezing for an extended period. The ticks will find mates, lay eggs, and find hosts for the season.
Of the 1,670 deer ticks sent to the lab this year, nearly 40% have tested positive for the bacteria that causes Lyme. The good news: dog tick activity has wound down. The lab received 2,800 samples in 2021, an unprecedented number. The annual average is around 500. But none tested positive for pathogens for diseases that can affect both people and their pets.
Dill is encouraging people heading outside to wear protective clothing, use EPA-registered repellents with DEET or permethrin and do regular tick checks. As for Susan, several friends have suffered greatly following a tick bite.
"I probably know probably 20 people who have had Lyme and are dealing with the after-effects of it later on," Scheffer said. It's a tough reminder of how precautions against deer ticks are so key to help keep her family and pets safe.
For more information from Maine CDC about Lyme disease, prevention, and treatments, click here.
The University of Maine Cooperative Extension Tick Lab will identify tick samples free of charge and test tick samples for pathogens for a nominal fee. For more information, click here.