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Tick population strong despite harsh winter

Experts say a tick-borne illness is on the rise in Maine and it can be more severe than Lyme disease. (WGME)

PORTLAND (WGME) -- Experts say the cold, snowy winter in Maine may have helped the tick population survive, and they seem to be out in force.

With warmer weather, more people are spending time outside, and experts say the deer ticks that carry Lyme disease have also come out of hibernation.

Chuck Lubelczyk is a vector ecologist at the Maine Medical Center Research Institute in Scarborough, which studies ticks and mosquitoes along with the diseases they carry.

He says the deer ticks were out early this year in mid-March once the snow melted.

They survived the harsh winter, in fact, Lubelczyk says they benefitted from staying under the snow.

“You think about how insulating and nice a warm blanket is for us in December and January,” Lubelczyk said. “Well the snow acts as the same thing for ticks.”

By summertime, the deer ticks will be the size of a poppy seed making them even harder to spot.

Last year, the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 1,769 cases of Lyme disease.

The CDC recommends staying in the center of paths instead of veering into wooded areas, wearing protective clothing like pants and long sleeves, using EPA-approved repellants, and always checking yourself, your kids and your pets for ticks.

Lubelczyk says if there’s lots of rain in May and June we can expect to see a surge in the tick population. If it stays dry, they're likely to quiet down.

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