Cases of Lyme disease in Maine are on pace for a near-record year, according to the latest data submitted by the state.
And the ticks that carry Lyme disease and other diseases thrive because of the wet weather in June and July.
The Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 753 cases through June, slightly less than the 780 cases reported during the same period in 2022. The state ended up reporting a record 2,617 cases of Lyme disease in 2022. The previous record was 2,167 in 2019 .
Tick-borne diseases are increasingly a problem in Maine, likely exacerbated by climate change. While Lyme disease is the most common, other diseases caused by the deer tick include anaplasmosis and babesiosis. The Maine CDC has reported 169 cases of anaplasmosis through June and 18 cases of babesiosis.
Lyme and other tick-borne diseases can be treated with a course of antibiotics. But many cases go undetected, especially if people are bitten by ticks in the nymph stage, which are so small they can be hard to spot. Symptoms may include fatigue, joint pain, headache and fever. If left untreated, the diseases can cause a number of complications.
Humid weather and rain are ideal for tick populations. So the weather conditions of late spring and early summer helped ticks thrive, said Griffin Dill, integrated pest management specialist for the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Tick Lab. The number of tick bite infections could have been higher if the rainy weather didn’t also keep people indoors for much of last month.
“Conditions were good for deer tick activity, but people weren’t outdoors as much in June, so there weren’t as many chances for ticks to interact with people,” Dill said.
The number of dead ticks submitted to the tick lab for identification — about 1,000 — is down 40% compared to 2022, Dill said. But submissions of deer tick nymphs, which also transmit disease and are more commonly found on humans in the summer, are up 40% this year compared to 2022, to about 700 submissions. And now that more people are out enjoying the sunnier weather, Dill said ticks are more likely to find people as hosts.
Hot and dry weather or extremely cold temperatures when there is no snow on the ground can knock back tick populations. But Dill said the soil is so saturated from the unusually heavy rainfall in June that even a prolonged dry spell may not do much to check populations this summer.
“When the weather is hot and dry, the nymphs are susceptible to drying out,” Dill said. “But with the soil saturated, the leaf litter contains high levels of moisture, which allows the ticks to forage for longer periods than they otherwise would have been able to.”
In August, especially later in the month, there is a period when ticks are not seen as much because they are in an inactive state while nymphs molt into adult ticks that will search for hosts in the fall, he said.
Research on ticks is underway, and the University of Maine landed $6.2 million in federal funding to research ways to control tick populations, identify new tick species and expand the public the health effort. Dill said the research tied to the federal money is expected to begin this fall.
To prevent ticks from latching onto you, avoid leaf litter, wear long pants, and stay on trails when walking in the woods. Wear gloves when carrying firewood. Carry out a tick check if you have been in a tick habitat.
If you are bitten by a tick, watch for signs of a rash, fatigue, joint pain, fever and chills. If caught soon after infection, tick-borne diseases can be eradicated with a course of antibiotics. In most cases, it takes 36 to 48 hours for an attached tick to transmit Lyme disease to humans, according to the US CDC.
Cold front that brings summer humidity storms to Maine before a nice stretch