May and June are the peak months when nymph ticks are out, researchers and health officials warn. Here’s what you can do to prevent a bite.
By Gwendolyn Craig
‘Tis the season for ticks.
May and June are the peak months when nymphs are out, researchers and health officials warn, and their populations are now widespread in the Adirondacks due to a warming climate.
“This is the time when people really need to be aware,” said Lee Ann Sporn, a professor at Paul Smith’s College studying the increase in ticks in the North Country. “The risk up here is equivalent to the highest (risk area) in the state.”
The Adirondacks used to be too cold to see many ticks, but Sporn said warmer and wetter weather combined with less severe winters are allowing ticks to colonize the region, even at higher elevations. The blacklegged tick, also called the deer tick, is the most common in the region, though dog ticks and the lone star tick are also in New York.
Diseases ticks carry
About the size of a poppyseed, these parasitic arachnids wait on brush and bramble with limbs outstretched, hoping to hitch a ride on a host. Many carry diseases like Lyme, anaplasmosis and babesiosis. Sporn collects ticks around the Adirondacks and is finding them infected with multiple diseases. Anyone bitten by a tick who gets sick, she said, should be aware that co-infections are possible.
Powassan virus, a tick-borne illness that can lead to encephalitis, an infectious brain disease, was found in two local people last year. Powassan is rare. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded 23 cases in 2021 and 20 cases in 2020. That is compared to about 300,000 people, who contract Lyme disease annually, according to the CDC. In New York, over 7,000 cases of Lyme are diagnosed each year. Sporn said people shouldn’t be terribly concerned about Powassan, but considering there were “two cases in one year in a place where we’ve never seen it before, it’s a big heads up.”
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Prevention is key
The state Department of Health says preventing tick bites is the goal and emphasizes using “common-sense” precautions.
“Prevention remains the most effective method to protect yourself and others from being bitten by an infected tick,” the department advises.
Here are some measures the department recommends to prevent tick bites:
- Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts for protection.
- Check for ticks often while outdoors and brush off any before they attach.
- Perform a full body check multiple times during the day, as well as at the end of the day, to ensure that no ticks are attached.
- Consider using repellents containing DEET, picaridin or IR3535, and follow label instructions.
- Shower as soon as possible after spending time outdoors (preferably within two hours) to wash away ticks that have not attached and more readily spot and remove biting ticks.