Tick-borne Disease Alliance Warns: Winter is No Holiday from the Threat of Tick-borne Diseases

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Contrary to Popular Belief, Athletes, Outdoor Enthusiasts and Homeowners Must Protect Themselves against Growing Tick Populations Even in Cold Winter Months.

Contrary to popular misconception, ticks that cause Lyme and other tick-borne diseases do not become inactive in winter weather and still pose a serious threat to anyone who steps outside during these months, according to the Tick-Borne Disease Alliance (TBDA), a national nonprofit dedicated to raising awareness about tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease, and how to prevent them. TBDA urges the public to always be vigilant and check for ticks when they finish outdoor activities, even in winter.

During the later part of the fall, many disease-infected ticks – including the American dog tick, Lone Star tick, Gulf Coast tick and the Rocky Mountain Wood tick – enter into a phase called diapause, during which their metabolisms slow down and they stop looking for a host to feed on. Simply put, these ticks wait out the cold winter months in the refuge of a protected microenvironment, like leaf litter, and generally do not become active again until the following spring.

Unfortunately, deer ticks do not undergo this resting diapause state, and they are still a threat. Throughout the winter months, the adult female deer tick (about the size of a sesame seed) actively looks for a host from which she can get the blood meal needed to lay her eggs in the spring.

“During the winter months, while many species of ticks become inactive, the female deer tick lurks in grass, brush and woodlands just waiting for a host to pass by,” said Bob Oley, TBDA Public Health Consultant. “Each time a person steps outside, regardless of the season, they encounter a substantial risk of being bitten by a tick and should take serious measures to protect themselves from ticks and the diseases they carry.”

Furthermore, while ticks will not actively look for a host to feed on if the temperature is below 32 degrees and the ground is frozen or covered with snow, the increasingly warmer winters experienced by states nationwide enable ticks to remain active year round.

“With 2012 being the warmest year on record in the U.S., temperatures in many states remain above freezing for much of the winter, providing a ripe environment for deer ticks to remain active,” Oley added.

TBDA advises the public to take the following simple prevention steps all year round:

  •     Bathe or shower soon after coming indoors
  •     Look for ticks and remove with tweezers
  •     Apply repellents for skin and/or clothing
  •     Spray the perimeter of your yard for ticks
  •     Treat your pets

For more detailed instructions about tick prevention and tick removal, visit tbdalliance.org.

About the TBDA
The Tick-Borne Disease Alliance (TBDA) is dedicated to raising awareness, promoting advocacy and supporting initiatives to find a cure for tick-borne diseases, including Lyme. As part of its efforts, TBDA is embarking on a quest to develop a reliable diagnostic tool as a first step toward eradicating the diseases. Working with others in the tick-borne disease community nationwide, TBDA seeks to raise public awareness through education and create a unified voice for advocacy regarding the current epidemic in order to make a real difference. More information about TBDA, Lyme and tick-borne diseases, and prevention and protection can be found at http://www.TBDAlliance.org.

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Sara Lieber
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