ITHACA, N.Y. — After a mild winter and growing populations of deer and mice, this year is predicted to be an especially bad year for ticks.
Lyme disease, carried by deer ticks, continues to be the main concern in Tompkins County, for residents and pets alike. This year many people have also been talking about the Powassan virus, which has caught national attention for its serious health effects, but there have been no cases in Tompkins County and none found in ticks submitted either.
If you’re spending time outdoors this summer — or any time of year — officials advise residents to take precautions against ticks.
The majority of ticks found in Tompkins County are black-legged deer ticks, according to Laura Goodman, senior research associate at the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine’s New York State Animal Health Diagnostic Center.
The bacteria that causes Lyme disease, Borrellia burgdorferi, is found at a higher rate in ticks in Tompkins County than other parts of the state, Goodman said. Based on 200 black-legged ticks tested at Cornell, 34 percent tested positive for Borrelia burgdorferi, or Lyme. The rate in New York state is around 20 percent.
“We consistently see a slightly higher rate in Tompkins than in other New York counties. Our data is based on public submissions however and is not systematically collected from environmental sampling,” Goodman said.
Symptoms of Lyme disease can include fever, headache, fatigue and a skin rash, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Lyme disease and most tick-borne diseases can be successfully treated with antibiotics, especially if caught early.
In 2015, there were 135 cases of Lyme Disease in Tompkins County reported to the New York State Department of Health.
The Powassan virus, a serious but rare disease, has caught headlines in recent months as cases have popped up and sometimes been fatal in the Northeast. It can cause fever, headache, vomiting, weakness and memory loss, according to the Centers for Disease Control. There is no specific treatment, but people with severe cases of Powassan often need to be hospitalized.
Three cases of Powassan have been reported in New York, but it has not been found in any ticks or people in Tompkins County.
“We have never detected Powassan in a tick collected in Tompkins County,” Goodman said. “That said, we haven’t been testing for it very long. From close to 200 ticks that we’ve tested over the past 12 months from Tompkins, we did not have any Powassan positives.”
Goodman said more awareness and recent research might have contributed to more public attention to Powassan.
“I think there’s more awareness now that we have better technology to test for emerging infections,” Goodman said. “There was a publication that came out earlier this year based on ticks that were tested the previous year, 2015 to 2016, and they looked at Suffolk County and parts of Connecticut and they did find several Powassan positive ticks. There was a lot of press attention after that and of course there have been a few human cases. We have no evidence that Powassan virus can cause illness in companion animals, livestock or wildlife. However, we are screening for it in clinical samples because we just don’t know very much about the virus in animals.”
In general, cases of Powassan are rare. Between 2006 and 2015, there were between one and 12 cases per year in the U.S., according to the CDC.
There have been no positive cases of Powassan in Tompkins County, according to the Tompkins County Health Department. However, physicians are being advised to order a test for the virus if symptoms are present, Samantha Hillson, public information officer for the health department said.
The Animal Health Diagnostic Center at Cornell will test ticks found on animals or people. There is a fee associated with testing ticks, but there is a discount for members of the Cornell community. In the future, Goodman said she hopes they can secure funding to reduce the cost for the community. For more information, visit ahdc.vet.cornell.edu/programs/tick.
Though ticks are most commonly found in the spring and early summer, they can be out year round.
“I would be cautious any time you’re going outside in any kind of wooded area. Even if there isn’t tall grass. I think it’s always a good practice to check family members and pets after being out hiking or even going to the park and doing tick checks all year round, not just in the summer. We did have a steady submission of ticks throughout this past winter.”
Here are a few tips from the CDC to prevent ticks.
- Use repellent that contains 20 percent or more DEET, picaridin, or IR3535 on exposed skin for protection that lasts several hours.
- Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents with products containing 0.5 percent permethrin. It remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available and may be protective longer.
- Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within 2 hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.
- Conduct a full-body tick check using a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body upon return from tick-infested areas. Parents should check their children for ticks under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and especially in their hair.
- Examine gear and pets. Ticks can ride into the home on clothing and pets, then attach to a person later, so carefully examine pets, coats, and day packs.
- Tumble dry clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill ticks on dry clothing after you come indoors.
The best way to remove a tick is to use fine point tweezers and carefully remove it, trying to keep the head intact. Goodman said people should not try to burn ticks off or use any substance to remove ticks. After the tick is removed, the best way to preserve it to get it tested is to seal it in an empty prescription bottle or other escape-proof container and freeze it.
- Tompkins County Health Department — Ticks and tickborne diseases
- Centers for Disease Control — Lyme disease
- Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine’s New York State Animal Health Diagnostic Center
Featured image: From left, Mani Lejeune, director of parisitology at the Cornell AHDC, and Laura Goodman examine a deer tick removed from an Ithaca resident. Provided by Melissa Osgood/Cornell University