A deer tick on a piece of straw (shutterstock)

NEW HAVEN, CT –  Connecticut is seeing a surge in ticks this spring and U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal visited the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station Thursday to urge residents to be vigilant.

“Increasingly these ticks are a threat to public health,” Blumenthal said. “I’ve listened to story after story from people in Connecticut whose lives have been decimated by these ticks and the diseases they carry.”

Blumenthal was joined at the Experiment Station by its director, Dr. Theodore Andreadis, who said while there was no established scientific reason why the tick population is increasing, his own theory is “the mild winter weather seasons we’ve had the past two years have probably contributed.”

The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station has collected 450 ticks so far this year and 38 percent have tested positive for Lyme disease – 11 percent higher than the average that have tested positive over the past five years in the state.

Over the past five years, the Tick Testing Laboratory has received 12,483 ticks from Connecticut residents or health departments for testing and on average 27 percent tested positive for the Lyme disease agent.

“Although we have yet to reach peak tick activity this spring, adult deer ticks, Ixodes scapularis, are already active and biting residents in greater numbers,” Andreadis said. “At this time of year, personal protection measures and conducting tick checks remain the most effective ways to reduce the risk of tick-borne diseases.”

Blumenthal and Andreadis said it is not unusual that Connecticut is seeking a spike in ticks and its related diseases.

“Lyme is everywhere,” Blumenthal said. “It may have gotten its start – at least name-wise, from Connecticut (the town of Lyme). But many states are seeing increasing numbers.”

Blumenthal added some of those states are “Red States,” which he described as a positive, because it meant that both Democrat and Republican politicians are aware of the dangers and support efforts to combat it.

Blumenthal, who conceded he used to test the patience of his children with his “highly intensive, intrusive,” checks for ticks, listed some of what he called “common sense” procedures people should practice as the weather warms up and more time is spent outdoors.

“Wear better clothing, wear insect repellent, check your children for ticks every time they come in from outside” Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal was also in New Haven to trumpet the fact that CAES recently received $3.25 million – its share of a $10 million federal grant – from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to join with Cornell University, Columbia University, Fordham University and the New York and Connecticut Departments of Health to establish a Northeast Regional Center for Excellence in Vector-Borne Diseases.

Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Dr. Theodore Andreadis (Jack Kramer / ctnewsjunkie)

The award will enhance research efforts into mosquito and tick-borne diseases, including West Nile, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, Lyme disease, Babesia, Powassan and Zika.

But the money won’t help in time for this year’s tick season.

There were 2,553 cases of Lyme disease in Connecticut in 2015, according to the Connecticut Department of Health.

Andreadis said one sobering statistic about Lyme disease is that experts estimate that for every one diagnosed case, there are another nine that are not officially diagnosed.

In reality, he added, “we probably have closer to about 30,000 cases of Lyme disease in the state.”

Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vector-borne disease in the United States and can cause severe damage to joints and the nervous system.

Blumenthal and Andreadis added that besides checking your children for ticks, make sure you vaccinate and check your outside pets, too.

Also Thursday Blumenthal and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, sent a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Thomas E. Price, asking for an update on efforts to form a Tick-Borne Disease Working Group as required by the 21st Century Cures Act.

The law requires HHS to support research related to tick-borne diseases and to establish a working group comprised of representatives of federal agencies, physicians and researchers, as well as patients, their family members and organizations that advocate on patients’ behalf.

“The proliferation of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases in our country is undeniable and underscores the need for strong diagnostic tools, better data collection and subsequent research, and robust public awareness and educational efforts nationwide,” the letter stated. “The tick-borne disease provisions within the21st Century Cures Act represents a critical opportunity to combat this growing threat to public health.”

In 2011, 2013 and 2015, Blumenthal and Gillibrand introduced the Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Prevention, Education, and Research Act to establish a Tick Borne Diseases Advisory Committee of doctors, experts, patients and advocates to help coordinate research to prevent and treat Lyme disease.

It was signed into law last December.