Experts debate tick numbers, but not danger
As the Island approaches the height of the tick season, experts disagree about the size of the tick population this year.
But public health experts agree that residents and visitors need to protect themselves from these nasty pests and the several diseases they carry. People who spend time outside and in the woods should be particularly vigilant.
"This is definitely the worst tick year I've ever seen," David Simser, Barnstable County Extension Service entomologist, said this week. "It's the year of the bug, all bug populations are up; it's a huge year for ticks."
Mr. Simser said this year both deer ticks and dog ticks seem to be out in record numbers. There is reason to be concerned about both species: both carry serious diseases.
But tick expert Dr. Samuel Telford of the Harvard School of Public Health has a different view.
"The deer tick population this year is delayed. The number of deer ticks found on mice this year is significantly less than it was last year at this time," Dr. Telford said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
He said the cold weather over the past three months has delayed the deer ticks. "June and early July is the biggest time for deer ticks in their nymphal stage, but so far there aren't very many of them."
June and July generally account for most reported cases of Lyme disease, and other tick-borne diseases, but Dr. Telford anticipated that the peak time would be later this year. "People do need to be careful right now, because the nymphal deer ticks are definitely going to be coming out more and more," he said.
Although the risk of contracting Lyme disease from deer ticks is well publicized, the small insects also transmit other diseases, including babesiosis and erhlichiosis.
The larger wood tick, sometimes referred to as a dog tick, has been implicated in recent Island outbreaks of tularemia, also called rabbit fever. Wood ticks can also transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, though this is rarely found here.
Some areas of the Vineyard are hotter than other places, Mr. Simser said, when it comes to tick populations. He said he encountered a surprisingly large number of deer ticks up-Island. After a recent walk on property managed by The Trustees of Reservations in Chilmark, he remarked on the large number of ticks. "I was walking on the paths in Menemsha Hills, and there were huge numbers of ticks. That's definitely an Island tick hot spot."
Dr. Telford agreed that up-Island tended to have larger tick populations. "I've always found Chilmark and Chappy to be the most 'ticky' parts of the Island," he said.