(NewsUSA) - A little-known relationship between acorns and mice has set the stage for what may be one of the most severe tick seasons in recent years. As more people go outdoors to enjoy the warm weather, they could also be at a greater risk for tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the U.S.
Experts across a variety of fields have pinpointed the reason behind the increased risk -- acorns.
Jim Fredericks, an entomologist with the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), says that acorn abundance from budding oak trees gives rodents a jumpstart on breeding. And rodents, especially mice, happen to be the primary source of food for thirsty blacklegged tick larvae.
Thus, we see a problematic circle of life. Since acorns fell at unprecedented rates in 2010, white-footed mice bred more heavily, and ticks feasted well. But a succeeding lull in acorns in 2011 means more ticks are waking up hungry in 2012 with fewer mice. The next easy targets are humans, walking through tall grass and playing outdoors.
"Many of these nymphal ticks may potentially have contracted Lyme disease from feeding on infected mice as larvae," said Fredericks. "These hungry ticks will soon be looking for another blood meal, which puts people at risk as they head outside to enjoy the weather."
Because Lyme disease can sometimes be difficult to diagnose, and not all people react in the same way, it's important for anyone spending time outdoors to be vigilant about ticks. NPMA suggests the following tick prevention tips:
* Use tick repellent when outdoors, and wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, preferably light in color so ticks are easier to detect.
* Use preventative medicine on pets, as prescribed by your vet.
* Once indoors, inspect clothing and entire body. Check family members and pets, too.
* Keep grass cut low, including around fences, sheds, trees, shrubs and swing sets. Remove weeds, woodpiles and other debris.
* If a tick is found attached, remove it with a slow, steady pull so as not to break off the mouthparts and leave them in the skin. Then, wash your hands and the bite thoroughly with soap and water. Ticks should be flushed down a toilet or wrapped in tissue before disposing in a closed receptacle.
* If you suspect a tick bite, seek medical attention.
* If you suspect a tick problem in your yard, consult a pest professional for treatment options.