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More deer means more ticks and illnesses

Sunday - 4/8/2012, 7:44am  ET

Kathy Stewart, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - An early spring and warm winter are leading to a painfully long tick season, which will translate to more bites and illnesses.

Lyme disease continues to be at high levels ever since nearly tripling from 2006 through 2007, "which means there are a lot more black legged ticks out there biting," says Dr. David Gaines, Virginia's public health entomologist. Black legged ticks are also known as deer ticks.

While Lyme disease isn't fatal, the lone star tick -- the most common in Virginia -- carries ehrlichiosis, which can be fatal if left untreated.

Last year in Virginia, there were about 105 to 110 cases of the disease, Gaines says. It's the highest number the state has ever seen and it has been going up exponentially over the last three to four years.

Gaines has a theory as to why we have so many ticks now. He says there is a link between our last housing boom and our current increase in the tick population.

"We had a large increase in the deer population starting in the mid-2000," he says.

"Although we haven't proven anything with any studies," he says that the surge in the tick population coincided with the real estate boom.

Back in the 2000s, people were buying up land and cutting up forest to put in subdivisions. An unbroken forest will not support a large deer population, but deer will come once it is cut up, Gaines says.

"And so if you have an increase in deer population, especially in suburbanized areas, you'll have increase in tick population and you'll have an increase in tick borne diseases," he says.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)