Ticks spreading to urban areas, expert warns

BOSTON — Tick-related diseases have been on the rise in Massachusetts, and with tick season underway, experts are warning the tiny insects are spreading to urban areas.

Ticks, which are about the size of a poppy seed, not only carry dangerous diseases but can now be found in suburban and urban areas.

"Instead of it being in the deep woods, they're in the suburbs and not just in the suburbs - near urban areas," said Dr. Thomas Mather, of the University of Rhode Island.

>>RELATEDLyme disease hot spots are popping up around Mass.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, in 2017, labs tested 8,962 patients for Lyme disease - nearly double what they saw in 2013.

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The DPH also added that, for every one reported case, there could be nine unreported cases.

The biggest problem with ticks is that they're hard to spot. They're roughly the size of a poppy seed and are not just found in tall grass, but anywhere where they can easily hop onto a host.

Deer ticks, which carry Lyme disease, latch onto white tail deer. According to Dr. Mather, these deer are the number one reason why tick-borne illnesses have skyrocketed - not because there are more ticks but because deer are used to living in urban areas.

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"Everyone expects to see white tail deer in the state parks but what about in downtown Medford or something like that?" said Dr. Mather. "It's really how many of those dry days have we had before the 4th of July that kind of determine when people will be exposed."

Dr. Mather said this season the biggest issue when it comes to tick proliferation is the weather. Ticks thrive during cloudy, humid days, but tend to dislike sunshine.

Sunshine or not, Dr. Mather stressed the importance of always checking yourself for ticks at the end of every day.

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