As pandemic-related restrictions ease and people return to parks and other outdoor spaces, remember to protect yourself against another threat -- ticks.
"With our latest mild winter, ticks have been active in much of the region on warmer days all winter long," said Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, an entomologist at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., who said it's too soon to predict population trends for 2020.
She added that it is clear, however, that ticks are expanding their geographic range and moving into colder regions. That's why it's important to know how to recognize them, take preventive steps and do a tick check each time you venture out.
"Although ticks aren't everywhere, they can be anywhere so be aware of your surroundings," Gangloff-Kaufmann said in a news release.
Though no notable change in distribution or density has been reported in the past year, there is one exception, according to Laura Harrington, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Northeast Regional Center for Excellence in Vector-Borne Diseases at Cornell.
Harrington said the Asian long-horned tick is expanding its range and has moved into New York state.
"So far, it hasn't been found infected with human pathogens, but it does transmit a hemorrhagic viral disease in Asia," Harrington said.
The bacterial infection that causes Lyme disease is the most important tick-borne illness in the United States, with an estimated 200,000 to 300,000 cases reported each year, she said.
"The blacklegged tick or 'deer tick' is the vector of Lyme disease in most of the U.S.," Harrington said. It also transmits other disease-causing organisms, including agents that cause babesiosis, anaplasmosis and Powassan disease. These ticks are most common in forested areas and shaded trail edges where there are lots of fallen leaves and shrubs, she said.
As such, you need to take steps to protect yourself when you're headed outdoors.
Harrington recommends wearing repellent, light-colored clothing and tucking pants into your socks. "You can also treat your clothing with permethrin or purchase permethrin-treated clothing," she said.
But don't stop with those steps. It's important to check yourself for ticks often.
"For Lyme disease, time is on your side," Harrington said. "It usually takes 24 to 48 hours after the tick has attached and started feeding before it can transmit Lyme bacteria. For some other pathogens, like Powassan virus, transmission can happen quickly, so check yourself periodically for attached ticks even when you are still outside."
Here's how: Look for ticks all over your body, including on your back, neck and hairline.
If you find one, use sharp tweezers to remove it, grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible, then pulling.
Once you are back inside, remove your clothing and place it in a hot dryer for at least 20 minutes, if possible. If that's impractical, place clothing in a sealed garbage bag and do it later, Harrington said.
"This is also a good time to take a shower and perform a tick check," Harrington said.
And remember to check your pets, too.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on ticks.