U.S. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-Rhinebeck, last week amended House legislation to include increased funding for Lyme disease research, prevention and treatment, including $1 million in Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funding to combat the disease and other tick-borne illnesses, according to a media release by Delgado’s office.
“Upstate New Yorkers and communities struggling with tick populations need assistance now — we need to invest in medical solutions to combat Lyme and stop this disease in its tracks,” Delgado said in the release.
Richard Ostfeld, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, said the recent legislation is a very positive new development.
“It’s great that the politicians are catching up to the science that this is an increasing risk to our population,” he said.
Lyme disease is spread by the blacklegged tick, also known as the deer tick. Early symptoms include a bull’s-eye shaped rash, fever, fatigue and muscle and joint pain, according to the CDC’s website. If left untreated, heart complications, short-term memory problems, inflammation of the brain and spinal chord, arthritis and facial drooping can occur. According to the state Health Department, Lyme disease cases across the state topped 8,700 in 2017, the most recent year for which data is available.
Ticks prefer dark, cool moist conditions, and as long as the temperature is above freezing, ticks will seek out a host, said Theresa Oellrich, communicable diseases coordinator at the Otsego County Department of Health. They’re fond of leaf litter and ponds where the grass is grown out, but they hate sunshine and mowed lawns, she said. It takes 36-48 hours for Lyme disease-carrying ticks to transmit the infection, so Oellrich said she recommends thoroughly checking for ticks everyday, including on pets.
If a tick is found, remove it gently with tweezers, making sure not to twist, monitor for early Lyme disease symptoms for 30 days and call a doctor if symptoms occur.
The chances of being bitten by a deer tick are higher when they’re most active, according to the state Department of Health’s website. Young deer ticks are active from mid-May to mid-August. Adults are most active from March to mid-May and from mid-August to November. Both young and adult deer ticks can transmit Lyme disease, but the young are often the culprits because they’re so tiny — about the size of a poppy seed — and harder to notice.
White-footed mice are the best host for baby ticks, said Carmen Greenwood, an assistant professor at SUNY Cobleskill with expertise in the study of insects. They’re more likely to feed on something closer to the ground because they’re very sensitive to drying out, she said.
A 25-year study revealed young deer ticks from Dutchess County have started activating weeks earlier than they used to, Ostfeld, a co-author on the paper, said. He said climate change may be contributing to this; tick hosts may be emerging earlier, prompting ticks to come out earlier too so they can feed. “If they’re coming out before the public has been effectively warned and starting to prepare, then we’re not going to do as effective a job of avoiding illness,” Ostfeld said. “That’s a clear consequence of climate warning that could lead to more disease.”
Despite how scary tick-borne diseases may seem, Oellrich said she doesn’t want people to be afraid to spend time outdoors.
“I want to empower people to go outside and do the things they always enjoy,” she said. “You just need to make sure you’re using the proper prevention.”
Oellrich will give a free presentation on deer ticks and tips for Lyme disease prevention at the Fly Creek Area Historical Society at its 210 Cemetery Road location June 26 at 7 p.m.
Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter.