Tick season goes beyond October
FINGER LAKES--Tick season officially begins in the Northeast in April, running through October. The official wisdom from several years back has been amended--at this point in time, every season of the year can be tick season. Even winter. Ticks are less active in below-freezing weather, but they are more likely to take shelter than die off in great numbers as our winters become warmer.
Unfortunately, deer ticks don't confine their appetites to deer. Many regard deer as the appetizer, finding the blood of people, pets and field mice just as delicious--as opportunity presents. The mammalian fluids enjoyed by this tiny eight-legged parasite result in an exchange of body fluids and bacteria that could potentially cause several devastating diseases. Lyme disease is the first one we think of--but there are many others.
November is a big month for deer ticks. Hunters spending time in the woods and, after a successful shot, field-dressing their deer carcass are at particular risk. While at this time of year deer are nearing the end of their breeding season, hormones and hunters still keep them on the move in the early winter, which increases the risks for anyone who doesn't live a life surrounded by pavement.
Professor Brian Leydet, who studies deer ticks as part of his specialty in epidemiology and disease ecology at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York, notes tick populations in the Finger Lakes have risen over the past 10 years. "This is reflected in the increase in reported cases of Lyme disease," he says. "From 1998 to 2002 there were 469 cases of Lyme disease reported in the Finger Lakes region"--he's referencing a nine-county area that includes Yates County but not Schuyler, Tompkins, Steuben or Chemung Counties--"that number has increased more than five-fold with 2536 cases from 2013 to 2017."
He points out this increase is a combination of increasing tick numbers as well as physician awareness of the disease. "Ticks are increasing in numbers and expanding their range due to a number of factors, climate change being one of them. With increasing ticks you will see increased tick-human contact and subsequent disease."
And he adds this sobering warning: "History tells us that Lyme disease is usually the first tick pathogen to show up followed by Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis. But there are other pathogens the Black legged tick can transmit including Powassan/Deer Tick Virus and Borrelia Miyamotoi diseases (BMD) and we really don't have a good understanding on what to expect from these in the next decade."
There's nothing new about these illnesses. In 2014, Scientific American reported Lyme bacteria had been found in a young tick found trapped in ancient amber estimated to be at least 15 million years old. The disease was also found in an ice mummy of a man who died about 5,300 years ago.
Preventing tick-borne illness can be straightforward--and for most busy people probably impossible. You can stay safer if you use an insect-repellent containing Permethrin, which some authorities feel is safer and more effective against ticks than DEET (diethyltoluamide), when you're most likely to be exposed to ticks. Permethrin is less toxic to people than DEET--and more toxic to ticks--but it can harm both cats and fish. Wearing light-colored clothing--so you can see ticks before they bite you--and checking for ticks after outdoor activities can prevent illness. This doesn't work when ticks are encountered in unexpected places or the immature and far-less-visible nymphs (hungry young ticks) feast on you.
So far in Schuyler County in 2019 there have been 44 reported cases of Lyme representing a significant increase from previous years; 18 in Yates County, representing a significant decrease. Deborah Minor, Public Health Director for Schuyler and Yates Counties says, "We have not had any confirmed cases of other tick borne disease reported to either county i.e. Babeosis, Powassan, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever or Anaplasmosis."
Jeffrey Hammond of the New York State Department of Health adds, "Not all ticks are infected, and for the majority of pathogens in ticks, it takes at least 24 hours from the start of the bite to when the tick can transmit whatever pathogens it may be infected with. We recommend doing frequent tick checks [of dogs, cats and people] at least once a day to ensure that ticks are found and removed before they can transmit pathogens."
A wealth of information including a short video on safe tick removal can be found at https://www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/lyme/
When you find a tick attached to you and its belly looks engorged, it is likely to have been attached long enough to have a meal at your expense. If you are unable to remove the whole tick or you have any concerns about your potential exposure to Lyme, or you develop a rash or flu-like symptoms within 30 days of a tick bite, talk to your health care practitioner. Chances are excellent that person has had a lot of experience with ticks, some of it relatively recently.