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How severe will this year's tick season be?

For people in many parts of the U.S., dealing with ticks is a regular part of life. And as ticks expand their reach, even more of the country will have to think about how to stay safe from tick-borne diseases.

Portrait of Jean Tsao
Jean Tsao

Traditionally, experts think of peak tick season as running from about May through July, with the possibility of a second, smaller peak in activity around October, Jean Tsao, associate professor in the department of fisheries and wildlife at Michigan State University and EEB core faculty member told TODAY. But the truth is that you can get tick-borne illnesses at any point in the year, she said.

“Technically, tick season never ends,” Saravanan Thangamani, professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at the SUNY Upstate Medical University and director of the SUNY Center for Environmental Health and Medicine, told TODAY. In fact, his lab receives tick samples from New York state residents year-round.

Continuing a trend that we've seen over the past several years, this year's tick season is likely to be severe, Thangamani said. It’s still too early to predict what this season might hold for tick-borne diseases, he said, but he’s already seen a 43% increase in the number of ticks submitted for testing compared to last March.

While there does tend to be a fair amount of variation from year to year, overall "there's definitely been an increase in the number of tick-associated infections diagnosed," Dr. Karen Bloch, professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told TODAY.

"And these are syndromes caused by different ticks," she said. "So it's really fascinating to see that, almost regardless of geographic area or disease, we are seeing an upswing." 

If you can, the best advice is to generally avoid exploring the grassy, woody or brushy areas where ticks live, Tsao said. But if you know you're going to be outdoors in a tick-heavy area or you live in a part of the U.S. where "there's a tick for every habitat," she said, it's crucial to take other precautions:

Read the full story in NBC TODAY.