New York State’s 69,313 reported cases of tick-borne illnesses in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, lands it among the top 20 percent of states where infected ticks are biting at an alarming rate.
And already, at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital’s Regional Tick-Borne Disease Resource Center, nurse Rebecca Young, its infection prevention expert, reports she has received almost double the amount of calls for help this spring over last spring. In April, it released a report that said more than 900 calls came in during 2017 alone.
“What we’ve seen is that there does seem to be an increase so far this year” in the number of ticks people are pulling off of themselves, their children and their pets, Ms. Young said. “The reason they’re getting worse is that habitat destruction and climate change keep happening.”
Dr. Scott Campbell, laboratory chief with the Suffolk County Department of Health Services, said ticks “are out in full force this year.”
“People need to take precautions,” he warned.
According to Dr. George Dempsey, who researches ticks at his practice, East Hampton Family Medicine, people often believe a tick bite automatically means they will become sick with Lyme disease or another illness, but it’s not true.
“We don’t have exact numbers, but I could cite one study done a few years back and it was about one in 50 tick bites results in Lyme disease,” he said. “The ticks were identified by entomologists as deer ticks and were engorged, which means they’d been there for three days or so.”
The other factor, Dr. Dempsey said, is that lone star ticks do not carry Lyme disease, although they are associated with the alpha-gal allergy, and the majority of tick bites he treats are lone star tick bites.
“They are more aggressive. They actually seek the host,” he said. “A deer tick will, for the most part, sit on a branch waiting for you to brush by it, while a lone star tick, from 50 feet away or more, will sense you, smell you, come to you.”
While news reports elsewhere in the U.S. have described a new tick, the long-horned tick, and a new tick-borne disease, a virus called powassan, Ms. Young said they have not been reported on Long Island.
“We don’t have any concern for that yet,” she said. “[The long-horned tick] is not in this area. We’ve got enough to focus on with the lone star tick, the deer tick and the dog tick. Powassan is in 6 percent of the deer ticks, but we have not seen a case of it out here on Long Island.”
Ms. Young will be giving a “Tick Talk” with a question-and-answer session at Provisions Natural Foods and Café in Sag Harbor on Wednesday, June 6, at 6 p.m. She will offer an overview of ticks, related illnesses, preventing bites and treatment options.
Tick-Borne Disease Prevention At-a-Glance
Here are tips for avoiding tick-related diseases, according to Rebecca Young of the Stony Brook Southampton Hospital Regional Tick-Borne Disease Resource Center, and Dr. Scott Campbell, laboratory technician with the Suffolk County Department of Health Services.
- Use permethrin spray on your clothing and a Deet solution of less than 30 percent on your skin to ward off ticks. Don’t use permethrin on your skin, as it breaks down on contact.
- If you find a tick, remove it as soon as possible. Don’t wait to see a medical professional.
- If you remove a tick following a bite, save the tick and bring it to your doctor when you get checked out. Identification of the type and possible testing of the tick itself help identify a high-risk bite.
- 4. Don’t put your outdoor clothing in the laundry hamper, because ticks can live there. Instead, put your clothes directly in the dryer for 10 minutes. Ticks won’t be able to withstand the heat.