Health

As tick threat explodes, state’s reluctance to address climate link may threaten public health

As tick threat explodes, state’s reluctance to address climate link may threaten public health

Maine’s invasion came early this year. In recent hotbeds of tick activity – from Scarborough to Belfast and Brewer – people say they spotted the eight-legged arachnid before spring. They noticed the ticks – which look like moving poppyseeds – encroaching on roads, beaches, playgrounds, cemeteries and library floors. They saw them clinging to dogs, birds and squirrels.

By May, people were finding the ticks crawling on their legs, backs and necks. Now, in midsummer, daily encounters seem almost impossible to avoid.

Maine is home to 15 tick species but only one public-health menace: the blacklegged tick – called the “deer” tick – a carrier of Lyme and other debilitating diseases. For 30 years, an army of deer ticks has advanced from the state’s southwest corner some 350 miles to the Canadian border, infesting towns such as Houlton, Limestone and Presque Isle.

“It’s horrifying,” says Dora Anne Mills, director of the Center for Excellence in Health Innovation at the University of New England in Portland. Mills, 58, says she never saw deer ticks in her native state until 2000.