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Head's Up, Westchester: Surge In Mice Signals Higher Lyme Disease Risk

Researchers predict that an explosion of mice last year will lead to a large number of Lyme diseases cases this summer. Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Felicia Keesing of Millbrook, a professor at Bard, is a community ecologist who studies the consequences of interactions among species. Photo Credit: Bard College

Last summer, mice seemed to be found everywhere from the countertops of local homes to large numbers scampering across forest floors.

Unfortunately, that surge spells a higher risk for Lyme disease cases this spring and summer, reports NPR.

Local husband and wife team, Rick Ostfeld and Felicia Keesing, have been studying Lyme disease for more than 20 years and are able to predict the disease in any given season, said NPR.

In fact, when Keesing came home from a trip and found evidence of mouse droppings all over her home, the Bard College ecologist told NPR she knew this summer would bring a high risk for Lyme disease.

"Not only were there mouse droppings on our countertops, but we also found dead mice on the kitchen floor," Ostfeld, an ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, told the news outlet.

Both ecologists told NPR that the mouse plague of the summer of 2016 in the Hudson River Valley was light a red light for a risky year for the disease this summer.

The reason is very simple -- mice are large transmitters of Lyme and infect up to 95 percent of the ticks that land on them -- and ticks love mice. So the more mice, the more cases of Lyme disease.

 An individual mouse might have as many as 100 ticks covering its ears and face, Ostfeld told NPR.

The Center for Disease Control says that said residents should be vigilant for Lyme disease and to realize that ticks are spreading to new areas as people build homes in forest areas that are thick with ticks and mice.

CDC epidemiologist Kiersten Kugeler told NPR that the disease continues to spread across the country and into new regions.

In the early 80s, Lyme disease was usually found in two areas -- western  Wisconsin and parts of Connecticut to New Jersey. Today, the CDC said the disease can be found in more than 260 counties, reported NPR.

"We think the true burden of Lyme disease in the U.S. is about 300,000 cases," Kugeler told NPR. "Lyme disease is quite a big public health problem."

CDC officials said there are steps residents can take to keep from getting infected including a tick check of your body daily while in the shower. Places that ticks like to hide include behind the ears, the groin area, armpits and on the scalp.

If you do find a tick, remove it quickly. Experts say it usually takes about 24 hours for a person to be infected by a tick.

Residents should also be on the lookout for signs of Lyme including a red rash or a fever and see a doctor immediately.

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