This is the time of year New Yorkers must be alert to the prospect of falling victim to Lyme disease,” warns Leonard Douglen, executive director of the New York Pest Management Association.
A study published in the Oct. 21, 2014 edition of the Poughkeepsie Journal noted that four New York state counties, Columbia, Dutchess, Ulster, Greene and Putnam, represented the highest per capita rate of Lyme disease from 2007 to 2009. After Columbia, they placed second, third, sixth and eighth respectively. Orange was 11th.
Between 1992 and 2010, reported cases of Lyme disease doubled to nearly 23,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but CDC officials believe the actual number of those infected may have been three times that number.
“There is no question that Lyme disease is on the rise and a new disease, also spread by ticks, Borrelia miyamotoi, resembles it, but can be misdiagnosed by physicians unfamiliar with it,” Douglen said. “When symptoms such as headaches, muscle aches, fatigue, and chills, if identified as Lyme disease are diagnosed early, a prescription of antibiotics for two to four weeks can successfully cure it, but, if not, it can become a long term, chronic disease. Some infections, however, can go undetected for months or even years.”
There is a significant debate among physicians and researchers about the long-term prescription of antibiotics. The dispute has resulted in the introduction of legislation in Vermont and New York state to require policy statements from state medical boards saying they wouldn’t discipline practitioners solely for following certain treatment guidelines involving long-term use of antibiotics. Caught early, a single treatment of antibiotics can eliminate the disease.
“People know about Lyme Disease, but often do not take the steps to avoid being bitten by deer ticks, to protect their children, or to check a pet dog that is allowed to run free in a backyard or during a daily walk on a leash,” Douglen said. “As often as we warn people and urge them to avoid Lyme disease,the steps that should be taken are often a low priority. Deer ticks are not specific just to deer. They will hitch a ride on birds, squirrels, mice and small animals as well, so even if you live in an area without deer, the possibility of being bitten by a deer tick is just as likely.” This increases for people who love gardening or outdoor recreational activities such as hiking and camping. New York City is not an environment one might associate with ticks, but cases of both Lyme and Borrelia miyamotoi are on the increase. The new disease has already infected 100,000 New Yorkers since the state started keeping records.”
Children aged two to twelve are at the highest risk for being bitten by ticks because they often play in tick habitats. An outbreak in the Hamptons in 2014 saw a dramatic increase in Lyme disease cases that Dr. Blake Kerr of the Southhampton Hospital deemed “an epidemic.”
Pest management professionals have a variety of options for tick control to provide to homeowners living in wooded or suburban areas where deer and other wildlife are known to wander onto one’s property
“People are often more afraid of the licensed and proper use of pesticides, even when applied by licensed professionals, than they are of the diseases that insect pests like ticks transmit.,” Douglen said, “but Lyme disease is a terrible price to pay for not taking the steps to avoid it.”
A little known fact about ticks is that they also transmit other diseases that include babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, bartonella or tularemia. There are, in fact, more than a hundred different strains of Lyme Disease and the Northeast is a major region for infections, but it has been reported in 49 States because more than fifty species of migratory birds spread the tick population.
“The association recommends the use of repellents such as DEET,” says Douglen, although care should be exercised when applying them to children.
Those who find a tick on their body or on a pet dog should remove the tick with a tweezer by gripping its head and pulling it straight out in a slow, steady motion. Dogs should be examined regularly for ticks that can cause a fatal paralysis.
People who spend time outdoors are advised to wear light-colored clothes, keeping shirts tucked in and buttoned to avoid skin contact.