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Increase In CNY Tick Population Brings Greater Threat Of Disease

Gloved hands hold vial of deer ticks
Wikimedia Commons
A gloved hand holds a vial of juvenile deer ticks, or Ixodes scapularis, used in NIAID research conducted at the NIH Clinical Research Center. Deer ticks are also called blacklegged ticks and can transmit the pathogen that causes tickborne diseases such as babesiosis and Lyme disease.

Central New York has seen a rise in the tick population and a subsequent increase in the threat of diseases they carry. Due to climate change more areas have become hospitable for ticks to thrive. Professor Brian Leydet studies disease ecology at SUNY ESF. He says tick-borne diseases need to be taken seriously so that they can be avoided.

“Some people get Lyme disease and it’s a mild case. They get treated and they’re good. Some people get Lyme disease and never feel the same ever for the rest of their life,” said Leydet. “There’s no easy tick borne disease except not having the tick borne disease. That’s why prevention is so important.”

Ticks spread other types of diseases as well. While there are 80 species of ticks, this area sees just a few. The most prevalent is the Black-legged or deer tick, as well as dog ticks. Unfortunately, Leydet notes, they carry a range of maladies along with Lyme disease.

“However, we are seeing increases in other pathogens such as things like Babesia, Babesiosis which is a protozoan very similar to malaria. There’s also other bacteria pathogens like Anaplasma which is a disease that infects white blood cells,” said Leydet. “They’re all fairly severe. There’s also viruses. We’ve heard of Powassan virus which is spread by the same tick which definitely has severe neurological symptoms.”

Of those who get the more severe diseases, he adds 50% of victims can have lasting neurological damage. Leydet says tick protective measures need to become a habit. Tick populations vary year-to-year. But increasingly they’re going to be a threat.

“We are fairly new that the tick numbers are, people are like ‘Oh I haven’t seen a tick, I haven’t seen ticks like this.’ They come to me all the time, ‘Been here 30 years and I’ve never seen ticks at this number,’” said Leydet. “And it’s like okay, now we need to start thinking about, well they’re here. They’re here to stay. Now let’s start making protective measures, preventative measures part of our daily routines. Because they’re here and they’re here to stay.”

Leydet says you can prevent tick bites by adapting habits like tick checks – showers – wearing light-colored clothes – tucking your pants into your socks – and wearing bug repellent like permethrin. He also recommends for you and your family to stay away from the transitional areas between your yard and the forest, where ticks are most likely to be concentrated. Another prevention measure is to control rodents on your property because they provide the hosts that allow ticks to multiply and thrive.