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Potential effects of climate change on tick-borne diseases in Rhode Island

November 1, 2021

Human cases of tick-borne diseases have been increasing in the United States. In particular, the incidence of Lyme disease, the major vector-borne disease in Rhode Island, has risen, along with cases of babesiosis and anaplasmosis, all vectored by the blacklegged tick. These increases might relate, in part, to climate change, although other environmental changes in the northeast (land use as it relates to habitat; vertebrate host populations for tick reproduction and enzootic cycling) also contribute. Lone star ticks, formerly southern in distribution, have been spreading northward, including expanded distributions in Rhode Island. Illnesses associated with this species include ehrlichiosis and alpha-gal syndrome, which are expected to increase. Ranges of other tick species have also been expanding in southern New England, including the Gulf Coast tick and the introduced Asian longhorned tick. These ticks can carry human pathogens, but the implications for human disease in Rhode Island are unclear.