Asian longhorned tick. ERIC R. DAY, VIRGINIA POLYTECHNIC INSTITUTE AND STATE UNIVERSITY, BUGWOOD.ORG, CC BY 3.0 US
May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month. Unfortunately, Lyme disease continues to remain prevalent across Long Island, southern New England and the New York City metropolitan region.
Lyme disease is, however, no longer a local issue. According to “Lyme: The First Epidemic of Climate Change” by Mary Beth Pfeiffer, the disease annually infects half a million people in the United States and Europe and “untold multitudes” in Canada, China, Russia and Australia. With females laying thousands of eggs combined with changing weather patterns, the eight-legged creatures, which are related to the common spider, are making their presence felt around the globe, appearing in places they previously did not inhabit.
An upstate New York tick-testing lab that tracks pathogens — including bacteria, viruses and parasites — has put its free tick-testing program on “pause” as per its website, nyticks.org, due to a lack of funds partly brought on by the overwhelming amount of tick samples submitted for testing. Locally, we’re in the height of “tick season.”
Is this year’s tick season better, worse or the same as previous seasons? “It is hard to tell,” says Tamson Yeh, a pest-management specialist at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County in Riverhead who regularly advises homeowners on tick control. “We cannot predict impending weather, and ticks survive winter very well hidden in leaf litter even with cold and snow. This year because of the very mild conditions ticks were active almost all winter long. I would say we are more likely to encounter them and in greater quantities.”
Tick-control professionals would agree.
“Presently ticks are out in full force,” Brian Kelly of East End Tick Control said. “We’re seeing mostly lone star ticks, but all species are out and active.”
Ticks are commonly found in wooded areas, yards and other leafy/grassy areas. Not all ticks carry the Lyme disease bacteria. “Look for them in leaf litter,” said Greg Regan of Alternative Earthcare, an area tick and mosquito control company. “While more common in upstate New York we have seen some Asian longhorned ticks on eastern Long Island.” Also known as the “cattle tick,” these were first reported in the United States in 2017. Asian longhorned ticks have been found on pets, livestock, wildlife and people. “Small rodents like squirrels and chipmunks can be vectors,” Regan said.
The best way to prevent Lyme disease is to prevent tick bites.
Anywhere from less than 1 percent to more than 50 percent of ticks may be infected depending on the area they inhabit. While most tick bites are harmless each of us needs to be alert and cautious. Anyone can get Lyme disease, which is caused by bacteria transferred to humans through an infected tick bite, but it is more common in children and teens. Those who test positive for Lyme disease often get a red circular rash (called a “bullseye rash”) around the bite and may feel tired, achy and feverish. In most cases, Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, the bacteria that cause Lyme disease can spread through the bloodstream and cause serious problems to the brain, joints and heart.
While other tick species are making their presence felt, on Long Island there are predominantly three types of ticks: the blacklegged tick, commonly known as the deer tick; the lone star tick and the American dog tick. When considering treatment it’s important to know which tick population you’re trying to control. The deer tick is the only species known to carry Lyme disease, but each species carries other diseases. Dog ticks for example can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Multiple lone star tick bites can lead to alpha-gal allergy, a reaction to red meat. While Lyme disease is one of the more commonly known diseases transmitted by ticks, two others getting more attention are babesiosis, caused by a parasite, and anaplasmosis, a bacterial disease that takes less time to transmit.
“There is an extremely high number of ticks that would enjoy dining al fresco on individuals in the Hamptons,” Yeh noted. “The most common tick on Long Island is the lone star. All life stages of the lone star feed on humans.”
Despite widespread information on ticks and tick-borne disease, many misconceptions remain. “Ticks do not fly,” Yeh said. “They do not jump or fall from trees. They climb rapidly upwards. A tick typically must remain attached and feeding for 24 hours or more to effectively transmit disease except for the Powassan/deer tick virus, which may be transmitted in 15 minutes.”
Ticks do climb tall grass blades and/or shrubs and wait for a potential host to pass and brush against them. At this point they can climb onto the host and begin to attach.
Treatments vary depending on the tick. “A removed tick can be kept in an empty pill bottle or plastic bag until it is identified,” Kelly said. Should you need to remove a tick from a person or pet use clean, fine-tipped tweezers to seize it then pull upward with steady, even pressure. Do not twist or jerk it as mouthparts can separate and remain in the skin. Remove fragments with tweezers. After removing a tick, thoroughly clean the bite area with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub and/or soap and water. Removed ticks can be identified as an adult or nymph in addition to its species.
When choosing a repellent, select one with 20 percent or more DEET, picaridin or IR 3535 for use on exposed skin. Apply tick repellent to skin and clothing, especially shoes and socks. Avoid areas containing bird feeders and rotting logs and any spots with leaf piles as these tend to attract vector animals. Shower soon after being outdoors. For pets, follow your veterinarian’s recommendations.
Check for ticks daily, especially under the arms, in and around ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, in the groin area and on the hairline and scalp. Deer ticks are commonly found on the thighs/groin while dog ticks are most commonly found on the head. After washing, clothing should be put in a dryer set on “high heat,” for about 10 minutes. Wear long pants and pull socks over the pant legs. Visit epa.gov/insect-repellents/find-repellent-right-you.
One fine body…