By Ted Siefer
LOWELL, Mass., June 13 (Reuters) - Large numbers of ticks, the parasites that carry Lyme disease, are expected to emerge in New England in the coming weeks, experts said on Friday.
Abundant snow over the winter and a wet spring have created ideal conditions for ticks to come out in the warm weather and try to latch onto hosts, they said.
"The next three to four weeks is the peak season of risk," said Sam Telford, an infectious disease professor at Tufts University and an authority on Lyme disease.
"That's when the nymphal ticks emerge and appear in large numbers. It's going to be gangbusters the next few weeks," Telford said.
The nymphs, some as small as a period in a newspaper, are much harder to detect than the full-grown ticks more commonly seen in the fall.
At a site he monitors on Nantucket, Telford found twice the number of ticks last week as he did last year.
The University of Rhode Island, which operates the Tick Encounter Resource Center, has placed its tick alert level at red, or high, for the entire Northeast and Mid-Atlantic region based on reports from a network of tick surveyors.
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria carried by the blacklegged tick, commonly known as the deer tick. Early symptoms include headache, muscle pain and fatigue, and in some cases a tell-tale bullseye rash.
The incidence of Lyme disease continues to rise in the region. New Hampshire health authorities reported nearly 1,700 cases of Lyme disease last year and the state now has the nation's highest incidence of the disease per 100,000 people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Maine, which had been considered less hospitable to ticks because of its colder climate, crews tapping maple trees are seeing more of them than ever, said Ted St. Amand, an entomologist and district manager for the Atlantic Pest Solutions.
"There never was much concern because deer tick was not that prevalent inland from the coast," St. Amand said. "Now it's everywhere."
Risk of picking up ticks can be minimized by people wearing shoes and clothing that covers their feet and legs, wearing insect repellent and checking themselves for ticks after being outside, according to experts. (Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Will Dunham)