A Conversation With Nurse Rebecca Young

Rebecca Young
Rebecca Young

By Lindsay Andarakis

This season is shaping up to be a nasty one for the proliferation of eight legged summer villains, known as ticks — black legged or Lyme ticks, and the Lone Star tick, causing the greatest concern among East End residents. Sag Harbor resident Rebecca Young, RN, BSN is the help line nurse for the Tick-Borne Disease Resource Center at Southampton Hospital. So far this season, she has received almost 250 calls from May through the end of June, a big jump from the 47 calls received from January to April.

What is making this year a particularly bad one for ticks?

There’s a couple of reasons why ticks are increasing out here; one is just warmer winters and the ticks aren’t dying as quickly, and another is the destruction of the habitat. There’s so much building going on…when farms were built here and woods were cleared and we got rid of a lot of midsize animals such as the coyote, bobcat, lynx, foxes…they are predators to the white foot mouse and the white foot mouse is the reservoir for the disease of Lyme. Ticks are born, they’re sterile. They get the disease from the white foot mouse.”

What is the number one prevention tactic people can do reduce tick bites or minimize risk of tick borne diseases?

The deer tick nymph, which is poppy seed size is the most common way to get Lyme disease. They’re so small, hard to see and very potent. So the most important thing that you can do is very fastidious tick checks at night. You really have to check everywhere because ticks get on you around the foot and ankle area and crawl up to a place that they can hide, behind your knees or places that you can’t see them. The thought is, that if you get it off within 24 hours, you won’t get the disease. So in that way, it’s thought that Lyme is completely preventable.

The big debate; organic “pesticide” property treatment, or heavy-duty chemicals? What is safe, and what is effective?

Permethrin is the main chemical that’s good for killing ticks. It’s a pesticide, used to spray properties; it’s also used to treat your clothes or to spray your shoes. Spraying your shoes is actually one of the best things you can do; spray the shoes with permethrin, don’t put it on your skin, put the shoes outside so they dry, and because the ticks crawl from the bottom up, they’re repelled instantly so you cut your exposure by 80%, apparently by just spraying your shoes and socks.

Leaf litter is where ticks like to be, ticks like to be in wet areas. They die by drying out. You’re not going to see them in very, very short grass in the hot sun. When they want to feed, they crawl to the top of the blade of grass and they might hook on to you that way; but they don’t drop from trees. The organic sprays work to a certain degree, but they don’t last very long, they wear off. You have to be doing it constantly.” 

What kinds of ticks should we be aware of on the East End?

There are three kids of ticks out there; the Lone Star, deer tick and dog dick and they all come in all sizes. A nymph dog tick might be the same size as an adult deer. The first thing you need to do is identify it, put it under a microscope or send it to some website that can identify it for you. You can identify it yourself if you didn’t mush it taking it out.”

How do you properly remove a tick?

If you have a tick, take a picture, pull it out from the head, not from the stomach because the stomach is where all the bacteria is. It’s like toothpaste, like squeezing the bacteria into your body. Grab it from the head, pull it out and try to identify it. If it’s a deer tick, there is a prophylactic dose of doxycycline you can take within 72 hours of taking it out. We don’t know if that works for sure, but some doctors give that out. It’s not a treatment, just a preventative, then you watch for signs and symptoms for four weeks.”

If you have a bull’s eye rash, headache, flu, achy joints, any sickness — summer flu is a real tip — then you have to get real treatment. If you have no symptoms at four weeks you can get a blood test. The reason you have to wait to get a blood test is because it’s an antibody test. It’s testing the body’s reaction to the bacteria, not testing the bacteria itself. You have to wait for the body to mount those antibodies or you’ll get a false negative.

Southampton Hospital’s Tick Borne Disease Resource Center will share expert knowledge and answer questions at the free event “All About Tick Borne Diseases” at the Southampton Arts Center, 25 Jobs Lane in Southampton, on July 15 at 10 a.m.. For more information, please visit EastEndTickResource.org.