Bob Wolfram, an avid outdoorsman who volunteers to lead hikes about once a month for the Southampton Trails Preservation Society, knows the dangers of ticks all too well.
The Sag Harbor resident recalls, in the late 1980s, a bout with Lyme disease so bad that the right side of his face was paralyzed for weeks, similar to symptoms of Bell’s palsy. Just this month, after experiencing aches and fatigue so severe that he had to cancel his “Pedal from Pierson” bike ride, Mr. Wolfram was again diagnosed with Lyme disease, despite testing negative.
Mr. Wolfram said he and his fellow society members take multiple precautions to ward off the arachnids during their outings, including spraying their already Permethrin-infused clothing with more Permethrin—a chemical proven to kill ticks—and yet “we still find them on ourselves after every hike,” he said. “It’s not Kryptonite, especially when there are ticks everywhere. Everybody is in agreement that this is the worst summer we’ve had in a long, long time, in terms of the ticks.”
Mark Hertz, owner and pharmacist at Hampton Liggett Drugs in Hampton Bays, confirmed Mr. Wolfram’s suspicions. Based on the store’s sales of doxycycline, an antibiotic commonly prescribed to fight Lyme disease, this is the worst summer for tick bites in memory, the pharmacist said. “We’ve been going through a ton,” he said.
In light of the dire situation, Southampton Hospital has announced plans for a Tick-Borne Disease Resource Center. According to hospital spokeswoman Marsha Kenny, the center will provide information about the various forms of tick-borne diseases—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists 10 other diseases carried by ticks in the United States—and will write referrals to specialists for patients coming in with tick bites. In addition, the center will track instances of bites and infections for educational studies.
Hoping to open the resource center by next summer, the community hospital is the beneficiary of an upcoming 8-mile bike ride called Bite Back for a Cure, held by the Tick-Borne Disease Alliance, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness about and funding new testing options for tick-related infections. The funds will help create the center.
Coincidentally, just this week, the CDC gave credence to the TBDA’s claims that incidents of tick infections are much more prevalent than officially acknowledged, changing the yearly infection rate for Lyme disease from 30,000 cases to a whopping 300,000 cases.
Additionally, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer threw his support behind a bill last week that would increase education about, as well as prevention and treatment of, tick-borne illnesses after Powassan encephalitis, an often-fatal tick-borne illness, was found in New York State. Mr. Schumer sent a letter to the CDC suggesting more of an emphasis on ticks that same day.
Regardless of the uptick in tick-awareness of late, Mr. Wolfram, who says he abides by the rule “If you don’t move your body, it dies,” is refusing to take any more chances this summer.
“I’ve chosen to stay out of the woods for now, at least until we have a couple of hard frosts,” he said.