BRATTLEBORO -- Now that spring has finally arrived in southern Vermont state health and agriculture officials are warning pet owners, and anyone who spends time outside, to be on the look out for ticks.
The number of reported cases of Lyme Disease has been on the steady rise over the past few years.
Alan Graham, State Entomologist with the Agency of Agriculture, says even though spring had a late start this year he is already hearing pet owners, gardeners and outdoor enthusiasts who are finding the tiny insects on their bodies, clothes and pets.
"We've already received a lot of reports of ticks this year," Graham said. "We expect that to continue until mid June."
According to Graham, the increasing reports of ticks in Vermont might not have to do with global warming, because the numbers are increasing in the both the south and the north.
Graham said the state's deer herd, which is healthy, supports a greater number of ticks.
Historically the number of acres of forested land has increased over 100 years and he says it is possible that the tick population has been steadily building.
More development, as well, means there are more people across Vermont and education around Lyme disease is driving more people to be on the lookout.
Graham did say that a very hard freeze in winter, where the snow melts and the temperature dips to 20 below, will kill off some of the population but it has been along time since a Vermont winter got that cold.
"Nobody really knows why the number is increasing," said Graham. "The ticks are moving south and behaving unusually. It is a bit of a mystery."
The number of reported cases of Lyme disease in Vermont reached an all time high in 2011, with more than 500 reports of people who were likely exposed in the state, according to the Vermont Department of Health.
In 2012, Windham, Windsor and Rutland counties had the second highest number of reported cases, with between 101 and 200 cases per 100,000 people.
Only Bennington County had more, with more than 200 cases per 100,000 reported there.
And since 1999, Windham County had the third highest number of reported cases in Vermont, with 269. There were 53 cases in Windham County last year, and 367 reported cases across the state, and Graham says all indications point to another busy season.
"The ticks are out there and there are more of them," Graham said. "They are right on time."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Howard on Twitter @HowardReformer.