By MIKE LYNCH
Audrey Schwartzberg was getting ready for bed one evening in June when she discovered what looked like a blacklegged tick crawling on her body.
Schwartzberg lives about eight miles north of the village of Saranac Lake in Gabriels, which at 1,700 feet is one of the colder spots to live in the northern Adirondacks and an area where blacklegged (or deer) ticks have traditionally not been found, likely because of its cold climate.
“If ticks can survive on Split Rock Road, they can survive anywhere in this area,” Schwartzberg said.
Schwartzberg’s finding is in line with those of Leann Sporn, a professor of natural sciences at Paul Smith’s College, who has been collecting ticks in the northern Adirondacks in recent years. In addition, anecdotal reports of residents finding ticks in the Saranac Lake area have been circulating this summer.
“We found at some high elevation sights (last fall), including a couple sites in Tupper Lake, which was also surprising because we haven’t seen them at elevations over 1,000 feet before, and those were at about 1,700 feet,” said Sporn, who has been doing tick studies for the last several years.
Sporn did clarify that she doesn’t believe ticks are living at the highest elevations in the Adirondacks, such as the upper elevations in the High Peaks.
Sporn, who works with the state Department of Health, also noted that ticks are not just carrying Lyme disease, which causes flu-like symptoms and has sometimes longterm problems, such as arthritis. Ticks she collected last fall from Essex, Clinton, and Franklin counties tested positive for babeosis, another serious disease that can also cause flu-like symptoms and hemolytic anemia.
“We found (babeosis) at multiple sites, which surprised us,” Sporn said. “So it’s pretty much widespread throughout the (northern Adirondack) region.”
Last year, 41 people tested positive for Lyme Disease in Franklin County, while Essex County had 121 cases, and Clinton had 55 cases, according to DOH. By comparison, Hamilton County only had one case.
DOH’s 2017 statistics for other tick diseases were not available.
Sporn is also planning to test for Powassan virus in the southeastern Adirondacks this year. Powassan virus can cause serious neurological issues and is potentially deadly. Last year, three people from Saratoga County contracted the rare virus and at least one died.
Overall, there have only been 100 cases of the virus in United States in the last 10 years, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Most of those have been in the Northeast and Great Lakes region.
Blacklegged ticks generally lay eggs in the spring. The larvae emerge in the summer and then become nymphs the next spring. June and July are generally considered the most common time to get ticks in the Adirondacks because the nymphs are the size of poppy seeds and hard to spot. They become adults by the fall.
Blacklegged ticks pick up diseases from the blood of small mammals, such as white-footed mice, after their first feeding. This can happen when they are larvae. They can then start transmitting diseases when they seek out additional blood meals, which start in their second spring or summer. Ticks have been known to live for three to five years.
According to the DOH, ticks are believed to transmit Lyme Disease and babeosis in humans after being embedded for 24 hours or more. However, Powassan virus can be transmitted in as little as 15 minutes.
Blacklegged ticks live in shady, moist areas at ground level. They will cling to tall grass, brush and shrubs, usually no more than 18-24 inches off the ground.
Information from Paul Smith’s College’s Adirondack Watershed Institute about ticks