Ticks Are Waking Up In New York: How To Prevent Illnesses

NEW YORK — It’s barely spring, but adult ticks, which can transmit a host of serious illnesses, are already actively latching onto people and their pets in most areas of the country.

Many of the insects emerging with spring temperatures play important roles in ecosystems and are harmless to people and animals. Scientists say a healthy tick population is an indicator of an ecosystem’s overall health and stability, and they are an important food source for many reptiles, birds and amphibians.

But, for the most part, they aren’t friends of humans, felines, canines and other red-blooded mammals. Not all ticks bite, but those that do are the American dog tick, blacklegged tick, brown dog tick, Gulf Coast tick, Lone Star tick, Rocky Mountain wood tick and Western blacklegged tick.

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Biting-tick species that can transmit severe and sometimes fatal illnesses that are found in New York include the American dog tick, blacklegged tick, brown dog tick and lone star tick.

Ticks are active anytime the weather is above freezing, but especially from March to mid-May and from mid-August to November. Adult ticks and nymphs can transmit tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and a few other serious illnesses.

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These disease-carrying bloodsuckers are enough of a problem in the Northeast that tick bites accounted for 101 of every 100,000 emergency room visits last year.

So far in 2022, tick bites have accounted for 25 of every 100,000 emergency room visits in the Northeast.

More About Tick-Borne Illnesses

Lyme disease: If left untreated, Lyme disease can cause a wide range of symptoms, depending on the state of infection, including fever, rash, facial paralysis and arthritis. Other symptoms, in absence of a rash, include chills, headaches, fatigue, muscle and joint aches and swollen lymph nodes.

Every state in the country has reported at least one case of Lyme disease in 2019, the latest date for which complete data is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Lyme disease outbreaks were most common in the Northeast. Lyme disease is spread by blacklegged tick species.

In New York, there is a high incidence of Lyme disease, according to the CDC. In 2019, there were 2,847 confirmed cases and 1,396 probable cases.

Rocky Mountain spotted fever: Most people who get sick with this illness experience a fever, headache and rash. If not treated with the right antibiotic early, it can be fatal. Before tetracycline antibiotics were available, Rocky Mountain spotted fever fatality rates ranged from 20 percent to 80 percent, according to the CDC.

Cases are found throughout the continental United States, but five states — Arkansas, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia — account for more than 50 percent of Rocky Mountain spotted fever cases. Rocky Mountain spotted fever is transmitted by a variety of ticks, depending on the region of the United States.

The CDC said in New York there were 1.9 to less than 5.2 cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever per million people.

Powassan virus diseases: Symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting and general weakness, usually progressing to meningoencephalitis, a very serious neurological condition resembling both meningitis and encephalitis with symptoms that include mental confusion, seizures, paralysis and palsies. If left untreated, it can lead to death.

US cases of Powassan virus diseases have been reported primarily in Northeast and Great Lakes states.

In New York, the state health department said there are one to two cases of POW virus disease per year.

Ehrlichiosis: There are three strains of this illness, one of them potentially deadly. Fatal cases of ehrlichiosis are highest among children around 10 and adults around 70, according to the CDC.

It’s most reported in the Southeast and South Central United States, but three states — Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas — account for 35 percent of all cases.

In New York, most cases of ehrlichiosis occur in Westchester County, the lower Hudson Valley and Long Island, according to NYC.gov.

Here are more tick-borne illnesses that can be found in New York:

Prevent Tick Bites

There’s not much you can do to control tick populations. Your best bet is to take steps to reduce ticks’ chances to gnaw on you. You can expect to find them in grassy, ​​brushy and wooded areas, and you’re likely to encounter them when walking the dog, camping, gardening or doing yard work or hiking in the woods.

Boots, clothing and camping gear can be treated with insecticide products containing 0.5 percent permethrin. The protection will remain effective through several washings, and clothing and gear pretreated with permethrin are also available.

Several repellents offer personal protection. The Environmental Protection Agency has a search tool to find the best tick and insect repellent for you and your family. One important caution from the CDC: Don’t use oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or para-menthane diol (PMD) on children under 3.

Check Your Body For Ticks

When you’re ready to come inside, check your clothing for ticks and remove them — or put dry clothing in the dryer on high heat for 10 minutes, and that will kill them (additional time may be needed if the clothes are damp).

If clothing requires washing first, use hot water because cold and warm water won’t kill them.

Check yourself for ticks. Taking a hot shower within two hours has been shown to be effective in preventing Lyme disease and may reduce the risk of other tick-borne illnesses as well, according to the CDC.

Use a mirror and do a full body check, including your underarms, in and around your ears, inside your belly button, on the backs of your knees, in and around your hair, in your groin and genital areas and around your waist.

Check Your Pets

Ticks find cats and dogs good hosts, too, and there are no vaccines available to treat tick-borne illnesses in pets. Tick ​​bites are hard to see, and symptoms of an illness may not show up for a week or even three weeks. So keep a close eye on your pets for changes in appetite or behavior.

Preventing the bite in the first place is your best bet. Talk to your veterinarian about the best products and how well they prevent tick-borne illnesses in your area. One important consideration: Cats are very susceptible to many chemicals, so check with your vet before applying any tick prevention products.

If you do discover your pet has been bitten, remove the tick right away. Tick-removal products are commercially available, but fine-tipped tweezers work just as well. Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, and pull upward with steady, even pressure until it’s extracted. Take care not to jerk the tick, which can break off the insect’s mouthparts, allowing the tick to remain in the skin.

Once the tick is removed, clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, soap and water. Dispose of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag or container, wrapping it tightly in tape or flushing it down the toilet.

Stopping Ticks In Your Yard

A number of commercially available pesticides and natural, non-toxic treatments will control ticks in the yard, but check with local health or agricultural officials on the timing of application, the best products to use in your areas and any regulations on pesticide application in residential areas.

Another idea: Create a tick-safe zone with simple landscape techniques that eliminate tick habitat or create wood chip or pebble barriers between your yard and wooded areas. For the most part, it’s a matter of keeping your lawn tidy and well-trimmed.

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