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of mice and men

Get ready for a whole lot more Lyme disease in the Northeast.

The tick-borne disease is spreading, thanks in part to climate change. But another culprit has been stealthily transmitting the disease, NPR reports, leading to infection rates three times higher today than they were in the early 1990s: mice.

Turns out mice thrive in the chunks of forest padding the roads and farms of New England and the East Coast. The unnatural patchwork of woods that covers much of the region is the result of new growth filling in where early European settlers clear-cut to plant crops. It’s a perfect habitat for mice, but not for foxes, owls, and other predators. Without much competition, mice populations have multiplied — right next to the humans who favor the same wooded, road-accessible landscapes for their homes.

Mice are ideal transmitters of Lyme disease. They pass the infection to 95 percent of the ticks that bite them, and can carry 60 to 100 ticks at any one time. An explosion of mice in the Hudson River Valley last summer suggests to ecologists that this year will see a matching explosion of Lyme disease.

Not to mention that, with spring coming to the Northeast earlier and earlier every year, Lyme season just got longer. Tick check, please!