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Warm winter could lead to early tick emergence in Pennsylvania

It only takes temperatures above 40 degrees for deer ticks to become active. After a record warm winter, experts say people should be cautious of the pests.

PENNSYLVANIA, USA — Despite a recent cold snap this week, the past winter has been one for the record books when it comes to warm temperatures. 

In fact, it was the third warmest meteorological winter (December through February) in Harrisburg.

While the milder weather has been nice, it’s also a cause for concern when it comes to a notorious warm weather pest: ticks. The length of tick season is not only increasing, but so is the number of illnesses the pests spread.

Emily Struckhoff, a vector-borne disease expert from Penn State Extension, says Lyme Disease cases have risen both in Pennsylvania and nationwide over the past few decades. This disease is spread by deer ticks. 

One of the reasons for this increase? Our warming climate.

Credit: Climate Central

“When we’re seeing warmer winters, earlier starts to spring, later ends to fall, that means that that time period where ticks can possibly be active and possibly be out and biting is getting longer,” Struckhoff said.

Typically, ticks spend the winter covered under the soil or leaves to stay protected from the cold. However, once temperatures start climbing above 40 degrees, they start to emerge.

“Blacklegged ticks can be active, like I said, anytime the temperature is above 40 degrees outside, which means that if we have a particularly warm day in the winter or spring is starting earlier and it’s a little bit warmer, they can come out and be active,” Struckhoff told FOX43.

This past February was no exception from the warming trend. We recorded multiple days with temperatures in the 60s to near 70 degrees, encouraging both people and ticks to get out.

While ticks may be emerging earlier, there are things you can do to protect yourself from the ticks and potential disease. 

First, try to avoid grassy and wooded areas. Use mosquito repellent with DEET to help deter ticks. After spending time outdoors, make sure to do a tick check. And finally, make sure to talk with your vet to protect your pets.

Credit: WPMT FOX43

Struckhoff says that people should still get outside to enjoy nature, but just be cautious to protect yourself in the process. 

“Enjoy the beautiful weather that we’re having," she said. "But there are plenty of steps that you can take to protect you and your family and your pets from tick bites. So being prepared and taking those steps can go a long way.”

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