Here are things to do (and not do) to avoid deer ticks that might carry Lyme disease.
As the Lyme disease season enters its autumn phase, it appears that predictions the bacterial illness would spike this year have so far been somewhat accurate.
But Tickmaggedon it was not, at least not in the Rochester region.
Social media was abuzz this past spring with contentions that deer ticks, the tiny bugs that transmit Lyme disease, would be especially abundant in New York state fields and backyards.
Others said that wouldn’t necessarily be so.
So far this year, there have been modest to substantial increases in confirmed Lyme cases in Monroe and several surrounding counties, though the number of cases in this part of the state remains relatively small compared with other regions of New York.
Statewide, there also has been an uptick in cases, according to the state Department of Health.
“It was kind of an above-average year but it wasn’t the worst that we’ve seen,” said Bryon Backenson, deputy director of the department’s bureau of communicable disease control.
Lyme bacteria can be transmitted by the prolonged bites of deer ticks, which people and pets can pick up when they brush against grasses, shrubs or other objects on which the tiny ticks reside.
Rashes, fever, fatigue, muscle aches and other flu-like symptoms can ensue. The infection can be treated with antibiotics, but a relatively small number of cases progress to more serious and lasting illnesses.
There is no statewide running tally of Lyme cases, and state health officials have not released last year’s totals yet, so there is no way to know how many people have come down with Lyme disease.
But a check of Rochester-area county health departments yielded some intellligence.
Monroe County’s Department of Public Health has compiled case figures only through June, before the start of summer Lyme season.
But once summertime cases are added in, the county expects the number of confirmed cases to be “significantly higher” than last year, spokesman John Ricci said.
Monroe tallied 109 Lyme cases in 2016 and 123 the year before that.
In Yates County, 54 cases had been diagnosed as of last week, versus 20 cases in all of 2016, health officials there told the Democrat and Chronicle.
In Ontario County, the number of cases this year was 42 versus 22 in all of last year. Wayne County reported 20 cases to date this year compared with 15 last year, according to health officials.
Counties a bit farther west — Livingston, Genesee and Orleans — reported far fewer cases and no appreciable change from last year to this.
The prevalence of Lyme disease mirrors the spread of the bacteria through the deer-tick population. The germs have moved steadily westward over a period of years, with Monroe County currently at the western edge of the area in which Lyme has a solid foothold.
Backenson, who coined the term “Tickmaggedon” in a tongue-in-cheek way this spring, said that while overall numbers appeared to be up this summer compared with last, that would not hold true for every location.
“It will kind of vary from place to place. New York’s a big state,” he said.
Backenson noted that the warnings of rampant Lyme had come from scientists in the Hudson Valley, who based their prediction on an expected weather-related boom in the mouse population. (Mice pass on the bacteria to deer ticks. In a domino theory of Lyme disease, more mice in one year should equal more infected ticks the next year, which should lead to more sick humans.)
He noted, though, that the impact of weather on mice will vary. “Whatever they were seeing at that particular site doesn’t necessarily indicate what’s going to happen in Rochester or Hornell or Buffalo,” Backenson said.
One of the scientists who authored the prediction, Richard Ostfeld of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Dutchess County, said he and his colleagues were still collecting ticks in the field and analyzing their data.
He didn’t expect the result to change their long-term conclusions that an abundance of mice correlates with an increase in the number of infected ticks.
Ostfeld also noted that statewide statistics on 2017 Lyme cases aren’t yet available to put their prediction to the test, and cautioned that any information released now would be anecdotal in nature.
While late spring through midsummer is the peak time for Lyme infections, a secondary group of cases can arise in the fall.
Immature nymph ticks, which are no larger than a sesame seed, are responsible for the summertime cases.
Adult ticks, about twice the size of nymphs, appear in the fall, posing a fresh threat of infection to hunters, leaf-rakers and fall hikers.
There’s one good way to remove a tick that could be carrying Lyme disease.
State Department of Health
The autumn risk is real but lower than in summer, Backenson said, because people tend to wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts in the fall, and because adult ticks are larger and thus easier to spot once they latch onto skin.
If a tick is removed within 24 hours, there’s a good chance it won’t have passed on the bacteria.
“We tend not to see a heck of a lot of cases in this time of year,” Backenson said. “But we do try to get the word out.”
Read or Share this story: http://on.rocne.ws/2yRTIIx