Tick-borne infections are increasing across the globe - is climate change to blame?
The prevalence of tick-borne infections is increasing across the world, particularly in Europe. In this post, we’re going to examine how the booming tick population can be attributed to the change in climatic conditions brought about by global warming, and how this has contributed to an increase in tick-borne infections, like Lyme disease.
Climate change: what does it mean for tick-borne infections?
Ticks thrive in regions that have a humid and warm climate. The ideal habitat for disease-carrying ticks is about 85% humidity and a temperature higher than 7°C. The climatic change the earth has witnessed over the past few decades has been very advantageous for ticks, with global warming creating favourable conditions in which they can thrive and multiply. 
The wide-ranging effects of climate change have influenced the incidence of tick-borne infections in the following ways:
Faster development of tick eggs
Ticks have the ability to find a favourable microclimate by using their thermoreceptors. These thermoreceptors help them to sense the surrounding temperature and modify their development through different phases of their life cycle. For example, once their larvae have reached the nymphal stage, the cold climate in winter usually causes them to stay dormant until spring arrives.
However, because of global warming, the winters are no longer cold enough to force the larvae to become dormant. As a result, adult ticks do not need to hibernate during the winter months. They can become active on warmer days, yielding a larger population of nymphs as a result. This has accelerated egg production and further increased the numbers of tick-borne infections.
A rise in tick population
Global warming has caused a rise in the population of ticks and led to an increase in tick-borne infections like Lyme disease across the world. . With the winters thawing earlier, ticks at the nymphal stage start to become active sooner. This has helped to increase the tick population in spring and summer as well as in winter.
In addition to Borrelia (the bacteria that causes Lyme disease), ticks also carry Babesia, as well as Anaplasma/rickettsia-like bacteria, which are all likely to be on the increase as a result of global warming.
Tick-borne infections can spread when ticks feed on hosts like deer, squirrels and rabbits. Adult deer usually have a stronger immune system, which can keep the infection in check. However, young deer (called fawns) carry much more of the harmful associated bacteria. During winter, when the population of fawns is lower, the bacteria is not as widespread. Normally this coincides with a reduction in the spread of tick-borne infections. However, the opposite is true during summers and warm winters. The warm and hot climatic conditions caused by global warming have increased the population of fawns, causing a rapid spread of tick-borne infections.  
Ticks and COVID-19
As we continue to live with COVID-19, ‘staycation’ holidays are becoming more popular. We are spending more time outdoors and enjoying holidays to more rural locations. This is likely to increase our risk of acquiring tick-borne infections as we are increasing our exposure. We need to be aware of tick-borne prevention methods, and must remember to check for ticks in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It may take several years or even decades for us to control global warming. However, we can definitely take steps to avoid its impact on our health. Tick prevention measures need to be reinforced.
We need to stay aware of our environment and keep our immune systems healthy by finding ways to boost the body’s defence mechanisms against tick-borne infections. These measures will be needed on a long-term basis, until the efforts to prevent global warming yield successful results.
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