REGION — Wintery weather is firmly behind us as Mainers across the state are dusting off their hiking boots and camping gear for the summer season. With any outdoor activity, whether it’s camping in the thick of the woods or taking a stroll with your dog, it is important to stay on top of regular tick checks.

The Livermore Falls Advertiser sat down with Dr. Ross Isacke at Franklin Memorial Hospital to learn more about tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease, anaplasmosis and babesiosis, as well as other things to be on the lookout for when inspecting yourself for ticks.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported over 2,900 cases of Lyme disease in 2023, which is a 10% increase over the number of cases reported in 2022 (2,617).

While the highest concentration of cases were seen in the Midcoast and Down East regions, cases still arose in Franklin County as the blacklegged tick, otherwise known as the deer tick, is still the biggest target of concern.

“The one that we should still classically think of as the most dangerous is the deer tick,” Isacke said.

“The really frustrating thing is they can be so small,” he said, going on to describe the size of the nymphs, which are the early stages of the deer tick’s life cycle, to be the size of the poppy seed. He also added the nymphs are just as dangerous as they can carry the same diseases as their fully grown counterparts.


Isacke stated that preventative care, such as regular tick checks and DEET-based insect repellent, is the best option, but to pay attention to skin for a particular type of rash called “erythema migrans”, otherwise known as the bullseye rash.

“It’s red and then it starts to spread,” he said. “The redness spreads further and further, and then the center where the bite was actually becomes blank, or clear, and it looks like a target.”

Isacke shared that almost half the cases of Lyme disease that he has witnessed have these types of rashes as early symptoms and should be treated by a medical professional immediately.

He also went on to share another breed of tick that has been on the minds of the medical personnel at FMH, and that is the lone star tick, which he said is slightly larger than the deer tick and for the female ticks of the species, they can be identified for a single white patch on the back.

“What we’ve been finding is it doesn’t cause disease directly,” Isacke said, “but it causes a very interesting condition, and you never want to be interesting in medicine.”

Isacke called this interesting condition “alpha-gal”, which is a rare phenomenon first reported in 1991 where those who consume red meat following a bite from the lone star tick have a heightened sensitization to red meat.


“What happens is they develop an allergy so severe, it has to be called anaphylaxis in a lot of cases,” he said. “Hives all over their body, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and even in severe cases low blood pressure requiring coming into the hospital.”

Isacke shared that it has only been in the last five years that they have begun to see cases here in Maine, and the condition is so rare that there are only a handful of them in the state. He added a piece of advice that defies most traditional logic when a person finds a tick on their body.

“(It’s) always important to call your healthcare provider when you pull that tick off and it’s best you can hang on to it,” he said. “The normal reaction is to try to smash, as is mine, but keeping it somewhere safe and asking ‘what it is’ is important.”

As we move closer into summer, Isacke shared concerns over what the hospital might expect to see as more and more cases start to roll in.

“One of the things that worries me is we kind of had a warm winter too,” he said, “and there’s probably less of that tick die off that happened, but maybe that last snow helped us a little bit, but really I am concerned this is going to be a more robust year for this but it’s still so early.”

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