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May 14, 2018 10:24 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Tick Numbers Increase On The East End, Bringing Illnesses With Them

Stony Brook Southampton Hospital’s Regional Tick-Borne Disease Resource Center works to educate doctors, adults and children on the dangers of ticks and the diseases they carry. ELSIE BOSKAMP
May 23, 2018 12:37 PM

Tick populations on Long Island are exploding, and local officials and medical experts say that, as a result, tick-borne diseases will continue to pose a growing threat to East End residents and visitors.

“It’s a hot topic right now, and it is getting worse,” said Rebecca Young, the “Help Line” advice nurse at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital’s Regional Tick-Borne Disease Resource Center, which educates and advises doctors and citizens across the county on proper protection and treatment for tick-borne illnesses.

The center has already received upwards of 250 calls from people across the county this year on the help line, double the amount received at this time last year—an increase that Karen Wulffraat, the center’s administrative director, credits to a combination of both more ticks and a heightened awareness of the center and its programs.

On the East End, ticks have always been prevalent, but year after year the populations of deer ticks, Lone Star ticks and dog ticks, the three that are found on Long Island, seem to be increasing. The reasons: habitat destruction, caused by construction and farming, and a warming climate, which allows ticks to live through the winter more easily, Ms. Young explained.

Among the top concern regarding ticks is Lyme disease, which initially causes flu-like symptoms but can be deadly if not treated properly. A clear indicator of the disease is a bulls-eye rash around a tick bite, Ms. Young said.

In 2016, Suffolk County reported 644 cases of Lyme disease, and upward of 300 cases of other tick-borne illnesses, including babesiosis, which can cause fatigue; ehrlichiosis, which can cause vomiting and nausea; and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, an infection that can damage internal organs if not treated promptly.

Now, in reponse to growing concern, Governor Andrew Cuomo is expanding tick control methods across New York State. The initiative is a collaborative effort between the Department of Health, the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to increase education and expand the use of eco-friendly tick control methods.

“Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses are a major threat to the health and well-being of New Yorkers, and we are taking aggressive actions to help stop the spread of these diseases,” Mr. Cuomo said in a recent statement.

The announcement of Mr. Cuomo’s plan comes just after U.S. Senator Charles Schumer and Suffolk County officials were pushing to receive federal funding to help combat ticks, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced earlier this month that tick-borne diseases have more than doubled in the United States over the past 13 years.

Mr. Schumer was rallying for support from Long Island legislators and executives in the hope of receiving part of the $900 million allocated to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by the recently passed federal budget.

“When it comes to our exploding tick-borne disease problem, Long Island has been feeling the brunt of the brutal bite for years and would greatly benefit from an increase in federal funding necessary to head this tick season off at the pass,” Mr. Schumer said in a statement. “The bottom line is that the feds need to send in the dollars Long Island needs to not just fight the tick war, but to win.”

According to the CDC report, nine new infections, spread by ticks and mosquitoes, have been found since 2004 and tick-borne diseases accounted for 60 percent of all reported illnesses from mosquitoes, ticks and fleas over the past 13 years.

Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming supported Mr. Schumer’s effort and said, “An increase in funding for Suffolk County Vector Control will allow for implementation of a carefully-structured plan to effectively manage the tick population and increase prevention, treatment, tracking and education regarding tick-borne illnesses.”

In response to the CDC study, the Northeast Center for Excellence in Vector-borne Diseases was established, using a $10 million CDC grant. The center will focus on testing and tracking the spread of diseases, especially those from mosquitoes, and will be comprised of various medical experts, researchers, universities and health departments, including the New York State Department of Health.

“Our nation’s first lines of defense are state and local health departments and vector control organizations, we must continue to enhance our investment in their ability to fight against these diseases,” CDC Director Robert R. Redfield said in a statement.

New York has some of the highest rates of disease cases from both ticks and mosquitoes, according to the CDC.

According to Ms. Young, Lyme disease is the most prevalent on the East End, but babesiosis, which is treated similarly to malaria, is catching up, and approximately 40 percent of people infected with Lyme disease are also infected with babesiosis.

“It’s the number-one co-infection. It’s a parasite in the red blood cells, and it’s significant because it takes a completely different treatment than Lyme,” Ms. Young said. “They used to call it ‘Montauk malaria,’ or ‘island fever,’ before they knew what it was.”

Other tick-borne illnesses to watch out for are ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and the alpha-gal meat allergy, which causes an allergic reaction to red meat. Lone Star ticks, which represent the largest population of ticks on Long Island, typically spread ehrlichiosis and the alpha-gal meat allergy, while deer ticks are known for Lyme disease and babesiosis. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is carried by dog ticks, but, according to Ms. Young, there are typically few cases of the disease on Long Island.

The Suffolk County Department of Health recommends residents protect themselves against tick bites this spring and summer by wearing long sleeves and light-colored clothing, using insect repellents, and keeping lawns and grasses mowed.

According to Ms. Young, spraying shoes and clothing with permethrin, a pesticide that kills ticks, and immediately putting clothes into the dryer for 10 minutes after walking through tick-prone areas, like leaf-litter, wood piles and long grasses, will also reduce the risk of getting a tick bite.

When people do get bit, Mr. Young recommends pulling the tick straight out using a fine-pointed tweezer and calling the center, or a doctor, for treatment advice. Proper removal of a tick is necessary, as disturbing the bug by dousing it with substances like Vaseline or gasoline will cause it to vomit bacteria into the bloodstream, increasing the risk for illness. The sooner people are treated after being bit, the better, Ms. Young said.

Tick-borne illnesses are thought to be acquired only after the tick has been attached to a host for at least 24 hours. To prevent diseases, like Lyme and babesiosis, Ms. Young said self-tick checks each night, and each morning, are the best way to catch a tick before it transmits illnesses into a person’s bloodstream.

For most tick-borne diseases, doxycycline, an antibiotic, will clear symptoms, but for others, like babesiosis, more intensive treatments are required.

In an effort to educate the public about such treatments and the danger that ticks pose on the East End, the center will hold an “Ask the Experts” panel discussion at 10 a.m. on Saturday, July 7, at the Southampton Arts Center.

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deer population out of control. building out of control. habitat destruction out of control. political idiots control. get what you deserve? that's aali have to say about that.
By sstorch (49), water milll on May 14, 18 2:47 PM
1 member liked this comment
you live here too steve
By BrianWilliams (87), on May 23, 18 7:34 PM
I think what steve is trying say is that we did this to ourselves....we as a species disrupted another species...for every action there is an equal an opposite ....
By toes in the water (884), southampton on May 24, 18 7:20 AM
* i love sstorch as an addition to this comments section.
- let's agree to wipe out the deer population through hunting/traps/poison (necessary evil)
- let's agree to fund a legitimate investigation into the origin of lyme's disease
(feel free to disagree, please provide a plan)
By adlkjd923ilifmac.aladfksdurwp (747), southampton on May 23, 18 7:57 PM
Ms Young explained that the "ticks seem to be increasing . The reason...habitat destruction, caused by construction and farming..." WOW. No Farms No Food Ms Young! Food doesnt grow inside a box on the store shelf, just saying

Ticks are out of control because we just keep building in every possible place we can find. Deer are being driven out of their natural habitat. Bulk of the Farms on the east end have been there long before we decided to wipe out all the land for homes an business.
By toes in the water (884), southampton on May 24, 18 7:17 AM
The East End is overpopulated and over built. The East End is looking more like Nassau County
By Win sky (58), Southampton on May 24, 18 9:45 AM
1 member liked this comment