ALBANY – If trends remain consistent, a group of infamous bloodsuckers could have an active romp around upstate New York this year.
Ticks, associated with diseases ranging from Lyme to babesiosis, came out early this year as a result of mild weather and early snowmelt. The season typically starts in April, peaks in late spring and ends in October.
When temperatures climb, these pests come out from their subterranean nesting grounds in greater numbers to feast. Regardless, ticks have been gradually inching northward, according to Saravanan Thangamani, a microbiology and immunology professor at SUNY Upstate Medical University.
“Historical data, together with the warm weather, together with the biology of the tick — that’s all the three that I use to speculate that this year, we will be encountering more, definitely,” said the Syracuse-based expert.
Deer ticks are most common in upstate New York, vastly outnumbering wood ticks, Ixodes cookei and Lone Star ticks. The common species typically become infected with Lyme bacteria by sucking on the innards of white-footed mice.
Between 1991 and 2018, the number of Lyme disease cases in the United States shot up from 3.74 to 7.21 reported cases per 100,000 people. In the greater Capital Region, the number of ticks tested positive for Lyme has numbered 1,234 since 2019, according to the SUNY Center for Vector-Borne Diseases.
At 45%, Warren County has the highest rate of disease-borne ticks overall, including 97 with Lyme, 24 with anaplasmosis, two with tick-borne relapsing fever and one with the deer tick virus.
Of course, the number of ticks tested per regional county ranges from 57 to 1,027. The data also varies based on other factors such as environmental preferences and regional lifestyles.
“The wildlife encounter with humans is different in different counties, different zip codes as well,” said Thangamani. “There are multiple factors, but the ecology, the vegetation and what kind of species are in that area all play a major role in the pickup intensity.”
Unable to jump, ticks often climb onto blades of grass and shrubs, waiting to attach themselves to passing animals.
Depending on the pathogen, the impact of a bite varies. Without treatment, Lyme can cause stiffness, shooting pains and chronic fatigue. Whether or not the disease lasts beyond treatment remains a point of dispute among medical researchers.
While babesiosis is far less prevalent in the state, severe reactions ranging from blood clots to organ failure have occurred in immunocompromised and older people, according to the state Department of Health. Death is rare.
Here’s how to prevent tick bites:
- Stay on marked trails. Avoid grassy and wooded areas.
- Treat gear and clothing with a permethrin insecticide.
- Limit skin exposure. Wear light-colored clothing.
- Shower within two hours of coming inside and check for ticks.
“If we can follow all of these things, we can effectively prevent disease,” Thangamani said. “But ticks are very smart. They will always find a way.”
Over the years, Thangamani said, there’s been an “absolutely false” belief that tick-borne illnesses can be eliminated with the torch of a cigarette. Ticks should be removed with tweezers.
Lyme can be eliminated through tick removal, but the same doesn’t ring true for viruses such as anaplasmosis.
Tyler A. McNeil can be reached at 518-395-3047 or [email protected] Follow him on Facebook at Tyler A. McNeil, Daily Gazette or Twitter @TylerAMcNeil.