The northeastern United States may see a significant increase in cases of Lyme disease this spring, an expert warns.
The reason is that oak trees produced relatively few acorns this year, part of a normal cycle of boom and bust years for the acorn crop. But the small crop means trouble for the white-footed mouse, which feeds on the acorns.
"We had a boom in acorns, followed by a boom in mice. And now, on the heels of one of the smallest acorn crops we've ever seen, the mouse population is crashing," Richard Ostfeld, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y., said in an institute news release.
What does that have to do with Lyme disease?
Mice are the preferred host for black-legged ticks, which transmit Lyme disease. Black-legged ticks need a bloodmeal at three different stages -- as larvae, as nymphs and as adults. As of the spring, the larval ticks that fed on 2011's large mouse population will be looking for their nymphal meal.
"This spring, there will be a lot of Borrelia burgdorferi-infected black-legged ticks in our forests looking for a blood meal. And instead of finding a white-footed mouse, they are going to find other mammals -- like us," Ostfeld added.
Even though Lyme disease was first identified only in 1978, in a severe outbreak in the town of Lyme, Connecticut, it has long plagued man kind. It was recently shown that Oetzi, the 5300 year old bronze age mummy found at the foot of a retreating glacier in the Alps, was infected with Lyme disease.
So keep an eye out for ticks. If you can get them off quickly, the chance of disease transmission is substantially reduced. If you get a bulls eye rash, with or with out an apparent tick bite, see your doctor.