Lyme disease, a debilitating disorder that can wreck the human nervous system, is expected to have a big summer in the American Northeast.
Abundant acorn crops from the 2010 fall season have swollen populations of the white-footed mouse, an animal that plays host to the deer ticks that carry Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes the disease.
In fact, 2010 was the fourth-warmest U.S. summer on record, suggesting that unusually warm seasons could lead to increasing epidemics of Lyme and other microbe-borne diseases.
After the boom 2010 acorn autumn, the summer of 2011 had the highest population of white-footed mice seen in the Northeast in more than 20 years, [disease ecologist Richard] Ostfeld explained. Those hordes of mice served as a favored food source when tick larvae hatched in August.
“That was a great thing for the ticks and a terrible thing for us,” Ostfeld told MedPage Today.
Tick survival is much higher when their food source is mice than if they feed on raccoons, opossums, squirrels, or birds, which are able to remove ticks during grooming.
After a dormant winter, I. Scapularis larvae emerge between May and July, “and we’re right in the middle of the highest risk season for tick bites right now, and there’s a very high number of infected ticks,” Ostfeld said.