Ask the Professor - Mike Teglas, DVM
How will the wet winter affect local tick populations?
Ticks are divided into two families: the Argasidae (soft ticks) and the Ixodidae (commonly referred to as hard ticks). Most of us are familiar with Ixodid ticks because they are commonly found attached to or crawling on people or their pets in search of a blood meal. Hard ticks spend most of their lives in the environment and require microhabitats with very high relative humidity to survive. In wet years such as this one, the additional moisture allows for better conditions for these ticks to reach adulthood. More adult ticks mating will also lead to increased tick numbers in the following year as the eggs hatch and the young larvae begin to search for their first meal.
How will the wet winter affect the diseases they carry?
Higher numbers of ticks (and, by assumption, higher numbers of infected ticks) will typically result in higher risks for transmission of disease to humans and their pets, especially during the spring and summer months. Most tick-borne pathogens also infect wildlife, usually small mammals. If these "reservoir host" populations increase as a result of a better food supply due to the wet year, the combination of higher numbers of ticks and larger populations of potentially infected wildlife hosts could lead to an even higher risk of infection for people. The best method for preventing tick-borne diseases is to avoid tick bites by wearing long sleeves and pants (tucked into the socks) while in the woods and checking yourself and your pets thoroughly for ticks before coming home. An attached tick should be removed promptly using tweezers to minimize the risk of disease transmission.
Mike Teglas is an associate professor in the Department of Agriculture, Nutrition and Veterinary Sciences. His efforts go into investigating the role of tickborne disease in the health of cattle herds throughout Nevada. Currently he is identifying important tick species and the diseases they carry.