The first ticks of spring are fall leftovers

By Samantha Murray

The month of March in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic United States seems like it’s always trying to decide if it’s still winter or if it should usher in spring. While springtime is celebrated as a time of renewal–when everything becomes new again–on the downside, it also is the familiar launch of tick season. And it may surprise you to learn that in March, which may not necessarily feel like spring, the first type of ticks to appear are not new at all, but are the leftover blacklegged (deer) ticks that didn’t find a host last autumn. If you see a lot of these ticks in March, it doesn’t necessarily foretell of a “bad tick year.” They’re just leftovers that soon enough will die.

Blacklegged ticks are not killed off by the cold and snow. In fact, while they’re inactive when temperatures are below freezing or they’re covered over by snow, these ticks become active again whenever there’s a little thawing. So, it’s good to remember that pretty much any tick encounter from October into March is most likely an adult blacklegged tick. And, these ticks are loaded with germs—more than half carry the germ that causes Lyme disease, and less commonly a bite lasting a day or longer also could result in other diseases (like babesiosis, anaplasmosis, relapsing fever, Powassan virus) as well. While still quite rare, the Powassan virus can be transmitted in the first hours that a virus-infected tick is attached.

Later in March, and for certain in April, adult blacklegged ticks will be joined by male and female American dog ticks, and in some locations, especially coastally, by nymphal and adult stage Lone Star ticks. That’s when it starts to become a real tick gorgefest! And for certain, you’ll want to be practicing all of your TickSmart behaviors – quick daily tick checks, wearing tick repellent clothing, treating your shoes with permethrin spray, tucking in your shirt—you know the drill for tick safety, you just have to do it!

But don’t forget about those first ticks of spring…you know…the leftovers from last fall. They’re there all winter, even if they’re not that active; they’re dangerous because they’re loaded with germs that can make you sick; and if you’re not on guard because you think it’s not quite tick season—well, SURPRISE!

BE TICKSMART, STAY TICKSAFE.

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