The 5 Disease-Carrying Ticks You Can Find in Maine
As tick populations increase in Maine, tick-borne diseases have become a public health concern in the state. Of the 15 species of ticks found in Maine, five of them pose very serious threats to human health.
The five disease-carrying ticks in Maine are the deer tick, dog tick, squirrel tick, groundhog tick, and lone star tick.
The risk of contracting a tick-borne disease varies by season and your location. Tick and health experts are urging anyone who spends time outdoors to perform thorough full-body tick checks after going indoors. Pets and livestock should also be checked regularly for ticks.
The carrier of most diseases in Maine is the deer tick. These tiny ticks – some no bigger than a sesame seed – can transmit Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, powassan and babesiosis as adults and as immature ticks commonly called nymphs. Lyme disease was first reported in Maine in 1986, and cases have been on the rise ever since, according to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Tick Lab. The most recent data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention shows that there were 2,079 cases or suspected cases of Lyme disease in Maine in 2018.
Common signs of Lyme disease include headache, fever, chills, joint and muscle pain, fatigue, and a characteristic expanding skin rash known as erythema migrans. Long-term complications from untreated infections can lead to severe arthritis, facial paralysis, meningitis, and inflammation of the heart.
Cases of anaplasmosis have increased in Maine over the past eight years, doubling each year from 2012 to 2017, according to the UMaine Extension Tick Lab. Symptoms include fever, chills, body aches, severe headache, fatigue, and gastrointestinal upset. Most cases are mild, but in some cases they lead to encephalitis and meningitis and can be fatal.
Cases of babesiosis, which has many of the same symptoms as anaplasmosis but also includes dark urine or jaundice, are increasing more slowly in Maine.
Last month, a Waldo County resident died after contracting powassan. It was only the third death associated with the deer tick-borne disease that causes a brain infection. Symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting, weakness, confusion, loss of coordination, slurred speech and seizures.
Groundhog ticks and squirrel ticks
Powussan is also carried by groundhog tick and squirrel tick.
Dog ticks, whose population exploded last summer, carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia. Only adult females are carriers of these diseases.
Early signs of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, such as fever and headache, can be mistaken for other illnesses. But the disease can progress rapidly and be life-threatening. Other symptoms include a characteristic rash, nausea, muscle aches and loss of appetite.
Also called rabbit fever or deer fly fever, tularemia primarily affects rabbits and rodents. It is rare in humans but can cause skin ulcers, swollen lymph nodes, eye inflammation, mouth sores, sore throats and pneumonia.
Lone star ticks
Ticks and adult Lone Star nymphs can transmit the Alpha-gal sugar molecule to humans. This molecule is found in red meat and in some people the molecule can trigger a reaction in their immune system creating a meat allergy. These allergic reactions may take several hours to appear and include hives, swelling of the lips, face or throat, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal upset, sneezing, headache and anaphylaxis.
Solitary ticks can also carry ehrlichiosis, which causes fever and muscle aches.
Anyone with symptoms of these tick-borne diseases who has found a tick bite on their body or has spent time in areas where ticks live should speak with their doctor.