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Time to move Lyme Disease Awareness Month to April?

The month of May brings many things, among them Mother’s Day, tulips, and Lyme Disease Awareness campaigns. But according to Dr. Richard S. Ostfeld, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, NY, if we want to get a leg up on tick-borne illness we need to become vigilant earlier in the season.

In New York State, the blacklegged ticks that carry Lyme disease and other pathogens are already active in late April. Ostfeld explains: “For more than two decades, we’ve been monitoring tick activity in the Hudson Valley region and beyond. It’s clear that climate warming is leading to earlier spring feeding by nymphal ticks, sometimes by as much as three weeks. While peak nymph activity occurs in May, in some years it’s at the beginning of the month.”

Paying attention to nymphal tick activity is essential to protecting public health. This tick life stage poses the greatest threat to people. Nymphs are both extremely small – about the size of a poppy seed – and often infected with the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. This stage is also the main carrier of the agents of babesiosis and anaplasmosis. In contrast, larval ticks are born free of these tick-borne pathogens, while feeding adult ticks are often large enough to detect.