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Heading outside for the nice weather? Be sure to keep an eye out for ticks

The black-legged or deer tick, which carries Lyme disease, is shown on a fingernail.
Bill Davis
Newsday via Getty Images
The black-legged or deer tick, which carries Lyme disease, is shown on a fingernail.

As the weather warms up, more Central New Yorkers are likely heading outside, but that also means an increased risk of tick-borne illnesses.

More than 7,000 New Yorkers are infected with tick-borne Lyme disease every year.

Central New York Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Alliance Executive Director Royale Scuderi said a big problem is Central New York residents may not be aware of how high the risk really is.

People aren't as familiar with what they should do, and what should happen if they do get bitten. And the doctors aren't as familiar with diagnosing with seeing the different cases with how to treat people," Scuderi said. "So I think those are some risks in that you've got this extreme high level of exposure, but yeah, the sort of low level of knowledge."

Ticks are often small and difficult to spot but are present from the rural to urban areas — even in residents' backyards. Lyme disease causes long-term joint and even heart infection, but Scuderi said there are better detection methods and vaccines in the works.

"They're working on vaccines that would be similar to COVID—mRNA—and they're working on direct testing that would look for the actual bacteria, so those will be huge," she said.

But until that becomes available, Scuderi said awareness is key. She said people check themselves and their pets for ticks after coming in from outside and shower and wash their clothes. But when they do find a tick, health officials encourage residents to send it in to Upstate Medical University's tick testing laboratory.

"It doesn't have to be on you, it can be on your pets—doesn't matter. But you send it in for testing; it's free," Scuderi said. "They're tracking so they'll know where all the ticks are, what diseases they carry, but it also gives you knowledge."

The mild winter in Central New York this year means more ticks will be out this summer.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the location of the lab for tick testing.