Connecticut’s tick population is back with a vengeance, which is bad news for people and their pets, but a profitable opportunity for businesses and organizations involved in tick treatments and mitigation.
How bad is the tick infestation? The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES) reported 500 ticks submitted to its laboratories for testing in April – in previous years, that number would be 24 or less.
Last year, Fairfield County sent 1,237 ticks – the greatest number of ticks from any Connecticut county – to the lab for testing, and 26.3 percent of those ticks were found to be infected with Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of Lyme disease.
Deadly disease carriers
Last month, a pair of troubling news stories reaffirmed the gravity of the problem: a man took his dog for a 30-minute walk around the West Hartford Reservoir and came home with 30 ticks on his pet (photographic evidence was widely shared by mainstream and social media), and a 11-month-old boy in Griswold was diagnosed with the rare tick-borne Powassan virus when he was 5 months old, the first recorded case in Connecticut.
Jay Fedak, a physician assistant at AFC Urgent Care in Danbury, had his own recent tick encounter. “I pulled off one last night while walking the dog,” he recalled, adding that the rate of recent patient calls and visits related to ticks has increased considerably to his medical clinic. “My guesstimate would be about 5 to 10 percent of our patients,” Fedak said.
Across town at Danbury Hospital, the rising number of patient calls related to tick bites has stretched into months when such activity was traditionally rare-to-nonexistent. “Last year, we saw tick bites into the winter months, which is not usual for that time,” said Paul Nee, an infectious disease specialist. “In January and February of 2016, we had a lot of calls. This February, we also had a lot of reports with patients with tick bites.”
Why are there so many ticks now? Fedak noted that the milder winters experienced recently – and especially the uncommonly warm weather this past February, when the temperature reached 60 degrees – helped the ticks to thrive.
“They are here because of the absence of a deep prolonged freeze,” Fedak said. “Ticks went deep enough into the soil to stay through the cold cycle. Also, the deer and mouse populations are through the roof. They are the primary carriers of ticks.”
Expense of treating
And dogs, sadly, join their masters as being the primary recipients of these parasites. “When we have a winter like we did, the amount of animals that come in early in season is always higher,” said Sheldon Z. Yessenow, founder of Oronoque Animal Hospital in Stratford. “Dogs could walk just on the edge of the woods and come here with ticks. We also do a lot of rescue work, and there is a high number of animals out in wild with a lot of ticks.”
Yessenow said that pet-care costs are already high and a new level of tick-related problems only exacerbates that expense.
“Veterinarian medicine can be expensive, just like human medicine,” he said. “We have people inquiring about purchasing pet insurance. We used to sell a lot of tick products from our pharmacy, but now a lot of people do shopping online, where there are so many new products of the market.”
One business sector that has been profiting from the problems brought by ticks are landscapers that offer tick control services. “We’re getting 40 to 50 calls a week,” reported Greg Mikos, owner of Fairfield-based Connecticut Landscapes LLC and the regional franchisee for Weed Man Lawn Care and Tick Control services. “We’ve seen this business almost double from what we had from the last few years.”
Mikos’ tick control service involves a series of multiple applications. He offers an organic solution that lasts for 30 days and a synthetic solution that can go for eight to 10 weeks. And Mikos has been offering more tick-related servicing well past the summer. “Last year we had a milder fall and we were getting calls into November,” he said.
Don Dickson, operations manager of Tarantino Landscapes in Bridgeport, also prescribed multiple property treatments against ticks.
“We recommend three sprays – one in spring, summer and fall,” he said. “Most people think the one that is done during the spring is the most important, but the one in the fall, right before the first frost, is perhaps the most important because it kills them before they are wintering.”
But not everyone is eager to have chemicals sprayed about their property. “Some folks look for natural ways to control tick population in their yards without pesticides,” said Mark Albin, a member of the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Association’s board of directors. “You can set up a backyard chicken coop – guinea fowls and chickens eat ticks. You can pick up a chicken coop for a couple of hundred bucks.”
Of course, there is the problem of what happens in the event that backyard poultry runs out of ticks to eat. “It takes a lot of commitment to take care of the birds,” Albin said, thus adding the chicken feed manufacturers to those making profits off ticks.