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May 29, 2017 2:36 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Experts Fear This Tick Season Could Be A Bad One

Brian Kelly, owner of East End Tick and Mosquito Control, uses his
May 30, 2017 3:51 PM

Janice Arbia enjoys giving out lollipops to her students every Friday afternoon to celebrate the end of the school week.

And, if the mood strikes her, the Pierson Middle/High School bus driver will occasionally sample one of the sweet treats herself—and that is exactly what she did one Friday afternoon last month.

It was not until early the next morning that the 45-year-old Sag Harbor resident learned a hard lesson about Tootsie Pops: They contain a gelatin made from animal byproducts, such as skin, tendons, cartilage or bones.

It was those items that caused a flare-up of a meat allergy that she developed after being bitten by a tick last fall.

She recalls waking up panicked, with her throat closing up, and also suffering severe intestinal distress.

“Really? One freaking Tootsie Pop? Are you kidding me?” Ms. Arbia recalled during a recent interview, though she could laugh about her illness now. “That’s my luck.”

Ms. Arbia is part of a growing population of East End residents now suffering from the Alpha-Gal Meat Allergy, a condition that can be spread by certain ticks, such as the particularly aggressive Lone Star tick that has been found in larger numbers on Long Island in recent years. Their bite can trigger allergic reactions in individuals like Ms. Arbia.

The number of people suffering as she did could grow exponentially this year due to an expected spike in the local tick population. A number of factors are in play, including the recent mild winter and the prevalence of mice and deer—both are carriers of ticks and their many related ailments, such as potentially debilitating Lyme disease.

The Tick-Borne Disease Resource Center at Southampton Hospital reported a nearly 47-percent increase in tick bite calls last year—from 292 in 2015, to 428 in 2016—according to Karen Wulffraat, the administrative director of the center. Correspondingly, the number of patients seen by the center increased by almost 83 percent over the same period, from 334 in 2015 to 610 in 2016.

Ms. Wulffraat attributes both increases to improved outreach efforts but also to a growing tick population that, experts says, is going to continue to thrive in 2017.

Health care officials and insect control companies are gearing up for a particularly intense tick-infestation season this year, as the number of Lone Star ticks, as well as deer ticks that also carry and transfer Lyme disease to people, are on the rise, according to Rebecca Young, an infection prevention nurse at Southampton Hospital.

“Boy, we think this summer is going to be really, really bad,” she said. “Already people are getting lots of ticks. I think that it does seem like a ‘bad year’ for ticks, because it seems like there’s a whole lot more. That may be because there’s a huge surge of Lone Star ticks.”

She explained that while deer ticks are generally passive, meaning they typically hang out in tall grassy areas and look for animals or people to attach themselves to, Lone Star ticks tend to be more aggressive, as they are attracted to sources of carbon dioxide, meaning they will actively seek out animals and humans.

Ms. Wulffraat noted that the Lone Star tick—identifiable by a silvery-white, star-shaped spot, or “lone star,” near the center of its body—transfers a carbohydrate into the bloodstream of those it bites. It can cause a delayed allergic reaction after the person eats red meat or meat byproducts, such as the gelatin contained in Ms. Arbia’s Tootsie Pop.

“We have more open land. We have more woods,” Ms. Wulffraat said, referring to the East End. “What’s happening is, the habitat for the deer and all of the other wildlife, we’re encroaching on it. They have less places to live, essentially. We’re in their habitat.”

Ms. Arbia, a volunteer EMT with the Sag Harbor Volunteer Ambulance Company, said she never noticed the Lone Star tick—the suspected culprit behind her new meat allergy—on her, though she’s been previously diagnosed with Lyme disease on two different occasions, and her husband, Chris, has been diagnosed once before. She noted that while she began showing symptoms of the meat allergy in October, she was not diagnosed as suffering from the Alpha-Gal Meat Allergy until January.

“Every morning, I would wake up sick, unless I ate fish,” Ms. Arbia said. “Trust me, I’d eat your burger. I’d eat 30 of your burgers. I’m not a vegetarian in any form. But I just can’t have it.”

Unlike most food allergies, the potentially dangerous effects of the Alpha-Gal Meat Allergy are not instantaneous, according to Erin McGintee, M.D., an allergist with Southampton Hospital. Approximately three to six hours after eating meat, an individual might notice symptoms of a potentially deadly reaction, including hives, itching, nausea, vomiting and throat tightness.

While a dose of Benadryl can offset many reactions, some individuals could end up receiving treatment at the emergency room. At the same time, Ms. McGintee noted, not everyone who is bitten by a Lone Star tick automatically develops the allergy.

“I’ll know if I ate something [bad for me], because I’ll get these funky, weird noises in my stomach, and I’ll say, ‘Oh, tomorrow morning is going to be fun!’” Ms. Arbia said in a dry, sarcastic tone. “You just feel so drained.”

The expected spike in Long Island’s tick population is something that Brian Kelly, a tick and mosquito control specialist and owner of East End Tick and Mosquito Control in Southampton Village, has seen firsthand.

On a recent tick collection excursion, Mr. Kelly stopped his truck on a side street just off of Edge Of Woods Road outside the village. He grabbed what he called a “tick stick”—a long wooden pole with a patch of white fabric on the end, similar to a flag. He walked approximately 50 feet along the edge of a driveway where some grass had overgrown, dragging the fabric along the blades.

In one two-minute swoop, he found four ticks—three Lone Stars and one deer tick. After 30 minutes of sweeping the side of the road with his stick, he captured a total of 10 ticks, some the size of a poppy seed.

“The ticks just seem to be out of control,” he said while holding a vial of the newly collected creatures. “I’m not exactly sure why. Some say it’s because of the mild winter. There seems to be an excuse every year, but the reality is the ticks just seem to be getting worse and worse.”

Later, he noted that the expected “bad tick season” could also have to do with the large number of acorns that dropped in the fall, explaining that they could have attracted even more mice and small rodents than usual, which, in turn, attract even more ticks.

In a partnership with Southampton Hospital’s tick center, East End Tick and Mosquito Control created an education program that, to date, has reached more than 1,000 local children. As part of the initiative, Mr. Kelly’s company hires a teacher who travels between Moriches and Montauk to offer instruction on how students can avoid getting bitten by ticks.

One of the more effective teaching methods, he explained, is sending the children home with temporary tick tattoos so they can later play a game with their parents. “They go home, and they are eating with their parents, and they say, ‘Hey, find the tick on me!’ and it gets a conversation going,” he said. “It really seems to be working.”

Mr. Kelly, who lives in Southampton Village and has two children, ages 2 and 7, said he does his best to keep his kids safe whenever they do venture outdoors, such as avoiding high and uncut grass, and checking themselves for ticks whenever they venture away from the beaten path. He notes that parents can do their part by raking up leaves every autumn, explaining that ticks like to lay eggs in piles of wet leaves. He also suggests that property owners keep their lawns cut short, shrubs properly pruned, and not to overwater lawns.

He also stressed that ticks can be found everywhere, including well-maintained backyards.

“You don’t have to be a hiker, you don’t have to be a mountain biker,” he said. “The dune grass at the beach is loaded with ticks. Just walking along the edge of the road … ticks can be found anywhere.”

As for Ms. Arbia, the mother of four says she won’t allow her allergy—or the expected jump in ticks this summer—prevent her from enjoying the outdoors. She notes that she and her daughters, ages 15, 17, 19 and 21, enjoy camping and days at the beach.

“We camp all summer long,” Ms. Arbia said. “I’ll still go out. I’ll still go to the beach. I’ll still be in the woods. You can’t live guarded your whole life.”

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Certainly a bad tick season already ;( This article reminds me I need to restock on EETCs "Tick Guard"
By toes in the water (884), southampton on May 30, 17 4:25 PM
Ive been thinking about Mr Kellys suggestion that last years over abundance of acorns has attracted more squirrels an mice....I think he's right. Its not just the mild winter. Think about all the tick carrying animals and rodents who have lost their homes due to the overbuilding here on the East End. When so much land has been cleared to allow for homes, the animals need somewhere to go. That somewhere is into your yard for food! The deer culls are stopped bc people feel bad for the deer . They ...more
By toes in the water (884), southampton on May 31, 17 7:05 AM
By building homes, we have enhanced the "animals" habitat by giving them food, water and shelter. The culls have not stopped, they are just happening on state owned land, where they do not want hunting. Any east end property owner wishing to support a bowhunter based deer management program to reduce their conflicts with nuisance deer, from October 1st to January 31st, can contact me via our website www.huntersfordeer.org.
By Michael Tessitore (76), East Quogue, New York on May 31, 17 8:28 PM
It seems I'll be sticking to the pavement instead of the trails...
By Mr. Z (11830), North Sea on May 31, 17 8:42 PM