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Acorns, Mice Blamed For Rise In Lyme Disease In New York

MILLBROOK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Experts are predicting a jump in Lyme disease this year, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says New York already has more cases than any other state.

As CBS2's Brian Conybeare reported, it could get even worse.

Deer ticks are back, and thus, Lyme disease is back too. Scott LaVallee of Dutchess County has already suffered through it – and for a long time.

"I was probably sick for seven or eight years," LaVallee said.

Lavallee wound up debilitated by Lyme disease, even though he did not get the typical bullseye rash.

"Ringing in the ears, facial numbness, the brain fog, fatigue, the joint pain," he said, "it was pretty brutal."

Unfortunately, many more people could be infected this summer.

"We expect it to be a particularly bad year," said Dr. Richard Ostfeld, Ph.D. of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.

Ostfeld studies tick-borne diseases at his Millbrook institution. Believe it or not, the reason Dr. Ostfeld is predicting a jump in human Lyme disease cases now is because of a bumper crop of acorns falling from oak trees nearly two years ago.

"More acorns leads to more mice, leads to more infected ticks, leads to more Lyme disease in us," he said.

Ostfeld said mice feasted on acorns in the fall of 2015, triggering a domino effect.

"They don't have to go around foraging much in the winter where they might get nabbed by an owl or a fox, so they survive the winter well and start breeding really early the next spring," he said.

Then, infected ticks use all those mice as hosts.

"There's a delay between when the baby ticks bite the mice and when they come out as nymphs and bite us," Ostfeld said.

While there is no human Lyme disease vaccine, experts advise protecting yourself outdoors by using insect repellent, wearing light-colored clothes so you can see ticks, avoiding deep woods, and always doing tick checks.

"I pulled a tick off me the other day," LaVallee said.

But LaVallee is now Lyme free and still enjoying nature.

"I love going for runs with my wife and going for hikes," he said. "I'm not going let some little bug freak me out and scare me off -- no way!"

He says he will enjoy nature even if there are more ticks this year.

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