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Experts Believe Drought, Pandemic Could Be Cause For Increased Tick Sightings In Utah

SYRACUSE, Utah — It’s no surprise that more people have been spending time outside, enjoying the scenery in the wake of the pandemic, but in Utah, there are also more reports of people and their pets unwittingly taking ticks home with them. 

“Not necessarily the number of reports, but the number of ticks per report. They seem to be growing,” said Wendy Wilson, assistant park manager for Antelope Island State Park. 

Antelope Island State Park Assistant Manager Wendy Wilson (KSL TV)

Wilson said the number of ticks reported has been rising steadily over the past several years. 

“When I first came out here about ten years ago, I didn’t hear of one tick incident for the first five or six years that I was out,” Wilson said. “Now, I hear about it every year.”  

Dr. Scott Bernhardt, director of Undergraduate Public Health at Utah State University, said a similar increase in those reports has been coming in from different areas of the state. 

“We can see that there are a lot more individuals that are identifying or finding ticks,” Bernhardt said. “And is that more of an issue of we have more ticks in this early part of the season from years past to present day, or is it just a matter of us finding them or looking for them?” 

Bernhardt said a mild winter could have contributed to the increase, as well as current drought conditions, since the ticks now have fewer rodents to snack on. 

“But then over time, drought conditions are really, really actually devastating to tick populations, and you’ll see then a major decline over time,” Bernhardt added. 

Dr. Scott Bernhardt, director of Undergraduate Public Health at Utah State University (KSL TV)

It’s hard to know for sure what’s happening, he said, without actually getting out to count and study Utah’s tick populations.

Bernhardt said researchers at Utah State University will be doing that this year, with the help of the Utah Department of Health.

There is, however, a bit of good news when it comes to Utah ticks — they’re less likely to spread disease. 

“The one disease that we’re most worried about is Lyme disease, and when we completed our study several years ago, we did find those ticks, but it was a real rare type situation,” said Bernhardt. 

Wilson said to protect themselves, visitors to Antelope Island State Park should use insect repellant and check themselves and their pets before heading home.

She added that people were less likely to pick up the bloodsuckers if they stayed on the trails and avoided going into vegetated areas. 

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