Currently, May is designated as Lyme Disease Awareness Month throughout the United States and Canada. Charity walks and runs, showings of documentaries, and other events are organized in order to educate the public and raise money for further research on Lyme Disease. However, there is a strong case being made that Lyme Disease Awareness Month should take place earlier in the year in order to maximize awareness prior to tick feeding season.
For one, ticks do not mind cold weather and generally start looking for a blood meal once outdoor temperatures reach 4 Celsius (39 Fahrenheit). In most of the Western world, including colder climates like Canada, this means that feeding begins well before May. According to the Canadian Animal Health Institute, “waiting for the arrival of warm weather before initiating parasite protection leaves pets vulnerable to ticks”, and the same can be said for humans. This year, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association has moved their “National Tick Awareness Month” from April to March. To prove the importance of Lyme disease awareness, research conducted in Nantucket, Massachusetts suggests that educational interventions can lower the incidence of Lyme disease by between 20 and 60%.
Rick Ostfeld, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem studies, is in agreement that a more proactive approach is necessary in fighting Lyme disease. According to Ostfeld, “if we want to get a leg up on tick-borne illness, we need to become vigilant earlier in the season”, noting that in New York State, blacklegged ticks that carry Lyme disease are already active in April. To make matters more pressing, studies conducted by Ostfeld and his colleagues show that global warming is leading to nymphal ticks beginning feeding up to three weeks earlier than they did two decades ago. Ostfeld, too, is a strong proponent of changing Lyme Disease Awareness Month to April.
This week, the Government of Canada released a report noting Canada is warming up twice as fast as the rest of the world. With global warming increasing, tick activity in springtime will no doubt occur earlier and earlier in Canada and northern US states. Therefore, tick-borne disease prevention messaging including the Lyme Disease Awareness Month campaign should start occurring before the month of May.