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Warm Weather Is Allowing Ticks To Spread In North

Engorged Female Blacklegged Tick Photo: Scott Bauer, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Bugwood.org

Maine’s invasion came early this year. In recent hotbeds of tick activity — from Scarborough to Belfast and Brewer — people say they spotted the eight-legged arachnid before spring. They noticed the ticks — which look like moving poppy seeds — encroaching on roads, beaches, playgrounds, cemeteries and library floors. They saw them clinging to dogs, birds and squirrels, according to publicintegrity.org.

By May, people were finding the ticks crawling on their legs, backs and necks. Now, in midsummer, daily encounters seem almost impossible to avoid.

Maine is home to 15 tick species but only one public-health menace: the blacklegged tick — called the “deer” tick — a carrier of Lyme and other debilitating diseases. For 30 years, an army of deer ticks has advanced from the state’s southwest corner some 350 miles to the Canadian border, infesting towns such as Houlton, Limestone and Presque Isle.

“It’s horrifying,” says Dora Mills, director of the Center for Excellence in Health Innovation at the University of New England in Portland. Mills, 58, says she never saw deer ticks in her native state until 2000.

The ticks have brought a surge of Lyme disease in Maine over two decades, boosting reported cases from 71 in 2000 to 1,487 in 2016 — a 20-fold increase, the latest federal data show. Today, Maine leads the nation in Lyme incidence, topping hot spots like Connecticut, New Jersey and Wisconsin. Deer-tick illnesses such as anaplasmosis and babesiosis — a bacterial infection and a parasitic disease similar to malaria, respectively — are following a similar trajectory.

The explosion of disease correlates with a warming climate in Maine where, over the past three decades, summers generally have grown hotter and longer, and winters milder and shorter.

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