Lyme disease infection rates have been increasing substantially with each passing year for the last three decades, and a majority of these lyme infections have occurred in the northeast United States, particularly in Massachusetts. A total of 1,000 lyme infections occurred in Massachusetts during 1994, but 2018 saw 67,000 people in the state contract lyme disease from tick bites. The deer tick, or the black-legged tick species is the primary vector of lyme disease in the northeast, and most lyme cases occur as a result of sustaining bites nymphal deer ticks during the spring season. During the winter and early spring seasons, only adult deer ticks can be found in the natural environment, but unfortunately, they can usually transmit infections during this time of year.

While most lyme cases are transmitted by nymphal deer ticks in the northeast during the spring, lyme is present in a greater number of adult deer ticks than it is in nymphal deer ticks. While a staggering 25 percent of the nymphal deer tick population carries lyme, 50 percent of the adult deer tick population carries the disease. Therefore, the adult deer ticks that people encounter in wooded areas, parks and residential yards during the winter are more likely to be carrying lyme than the nymphal deer ticks that people encounter during the spring.

While people contract lyme disease from deer ticks during the winter in the northeast, there does not yet exist any data on how many people contract lyme disease from tick bites during the winter in the northeast. Ticks are able to survive winter temperatures in the northeast by seeking insulated shelter within decaying plant-matter, but they remain largely motionless on winter days when the temperature is below freezing. However, once outside temperatures reach 40 degrees or above, ticks regain their mobility and seek out blood meals. Deer ticks are also expanding their habitat in into residential areas of Massachusetts and other northeastern states. This expansion is in large part due to the rapid proliferation of deer that congregate around homes in Massachusetts. Since deer ticks obviously collect blood-meals from deer, deer ticks are hitchhiking onto residential lawns in the state. Residents all over Massachusetts have spotted deer ticks in their lawns and one doctor in the state found a few specimens within his Boston practice.

Have you ever found a deer tick embedded in your skin?