The Hudson Valley is a hot spot for Lyme, and for the eight-legged menace that carries it: Ixodes scapularis, also known as the deer tick.
Given the high incidence of the the disease locally, the region has also become a center for Lyme expertise. Nestled in the heart of the Hudson Valley, in prime Lyme territory, is our own Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. The small private research center in Millbrook has been at the forefront of the effort to understand ticks. Cary researchers have been watching tick populations since the 1990s, tracking them to see how they respond to changes in the landscape. A complex picture has emerged: Tick populations follow a boom-and-bust cycle, responding to wild swings in the local mouse population.
The story goes something like this: Oak trees have a good year and produce masses of acorns. The following year, rodent populations surge thanks to bountiful food supply, providing an abundant source of hosts for new ticks. Two years after an acorn bumper crop, the population of Lyme-infected tick nymphs goes up as well. In places where forests support large populations of predators that eat mice, like bobcats, foxes and opossums, there are fewer infected ticks. The worst-case scenario, says Cary scientist Richard Ostfeld, is a year in which the mouse population spikes and then crashes. Ticks would seek other hosts, like people.
One of the brightest lights in investigative journalism on Lyme disease is a longtime Hudson Valley local: Mary Beth Pfeiffer, a veteran reporter for the Poughkeepsie Journal. In her book, Lyme: The First Epidemic of Climate Change, she builds a case that—thanks to the warming world—both Lyme disease and the ticks that carry it are on the march, expanding rapidly into habitats once thought too cold or mountainous to support large deer tick populations.
Regardless, the best advice for dealing with ticks and Lyme disease in the Hudson Valley is still to cover up, use repellent, check your body often, and keep a tweezer handy.
Read more about ticks and Lyme Disease in the region.