Tag Archive | "ticks"

Tick-Borne Disease Task Force Makes Recommendations

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 By Mara Certic

A report issued last week by the Senate Majority Coalition Task Force on Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases calls for the formation of a State Department of Health action plan in order to reduce the number of infections and increase detection, diagnosis and treatment. The task force was brought together in October to address the rising concerns about the spread of tick-borne diseases in New York State and included Senator Ken LaValle among its members.

According to the Department of Health, more than 95,000 cases of Lyme disease have been reported in the state since 1986.

Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease, but diagnoses of babesiosis and anaplasmosis have increased in recent years as well, the task force found. Suffolk County has the third highest number of cases reported each year in the state.

“We have had nine deaths from Lyme disease or tick-borne diseases [in New York State],” Senator LaValle said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “We think that this needs to be taken more seriously.”

The report states that one of the main concerns when it comes to controlling the tick-borne diseases is that few of the cases are reported. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, only about 10 percent of cases of Lyme disease are actually reported.

The task force’s report suggested several educational initiatives the state could undertake that would encourage New Yorkers to report Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. A County Learning Collaborative has been suggested to encourage conversations of between counties that have long been troubled by ticks and those that have only recently seen outbreaks of these diseases.

The task force also suggested a general statewide educational campaign, as well as improving continuing medical and veterinary education about the topic.

This year, for the first time, the state Senate has secured funding in the state budget exclusively for managing tick-borne diseases. “For the first time, we’ve got some money and we’re going to be a pilot for the state with the 4-poster program,” Senator LaValle said. The 4-Poster systems work by attracting deer with food, and then applying the insecticide permethrin to the animals when they approach to feed.

Installation of these devices on Shelter Island and in North Haven will take place “A.s.a.p.,” the senator said. “We believe it works. We want to get information that we can share statewide.”

North Haven is included because “it’s small enough so we think we can do a good job in putting them there,” said Senator LaValle.

A re-evaluation of diagnostic testing has also been recommended, as has a review of medical insurance to minimize coverage limitations regarding tick-borne diseases.

The Senate has also taken legislative steps to deal with this problem; one piece of legislation, which has passed in both houses, ensures that no physician will be brought up on charges of misconduct based upon their recommendation of a treatment that is not universally accepted by the medical community.

“There have been some physicians that have used long-term antibiotic to treat Lyme disease,” explained Senator LaValle. “This was not a mainstream use and so some physicians were brought up before the health committees for medical misconduct.”

Senator LaValle said the Senate passed a resolution on Friday, June 20, calling on the federal government to increase funding for Lyme and tick-borne diseases. “Our resolution talks about two things,” he said.  “Number one: we need the CDC to treat this as a more serious illness. Number two: we could use some help with funding.”

Tick Control Services

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It would be nice if all the ticks would disappear at the end of the month of May, which also happens to be Lyme Disease Awareness Month, but that is not going to happen.

But Brian Kelly, the owner of East End Tick & Mosquito Control at 214 North Sea Road in Southampton, said steps can be taken to decrease the number of tick-related illness on the East End.

“It seems that the polar vortex and freezing temperatures did not kill off the ticks as many had hoped,” Mr. Kelly said in a press release. “I have flagged for ticks a few times over the past weeks and the population has not decreased.”

He advises clients to set up a schedule as early as possible to treat their property to reduce the incidence of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.

East End Tick & Mosquito can be reached at (631) 287-9700, 324-9700 or 765-9700.

Back to the Woods

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Ticks have been a costly burden to the great majority of people who live on the East End, who rack up millions in health bills annually fighting diseases like Lyme and babeseosis. This is not to mention the physical suffering these diseases wreak on their victims: arthritis and joint pain, fevers and, quite likely, memory loss.

And for those of us who hope to avoid contracting the disease in the first place, there is the loss of the pleasure of living here: hiking, bird watching, even gardening become fearsome activities when you wind up plucking clinging ticks from your limbs.

All of this is to say that the residents of North Haven deserve a shot at what appears to be an effective way of reducing the tick population. Village residents on Tuesday implored the village board to take on a four-poster program that has been successful on Shelter Island. It’s expensive — about $1 million, according to sources — but, considering the personal expense of local residents who have dealt with treating tick-borne diseases, probably worth the investment.

Using North Haven as a control, Shelter Island was evidently able to reduce ticks by about 90 percent over four years. That’s a remarkable accomplishment. And one we imagine has Shelter Islanders enjoying the outdoors again.

Plants, Animals Signify The Winter that Wasn’t

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By Claire Walla

Is that? It can’t be… a purple crocus? In the middle of winter?!

Yes, it’s barely March, and June, it seems, is already bustin’ out all over.

According to Dee Yardley, Sag Harbor Village Superintendent of Public Works, the lack of snow and ice means the village is already shifting gears.

Rather than bringing out the snow plow, village crews are clipping branches and clearing leaves and debris from village roadways. And as far as he can tell, the weather still looks good at least through next week.

“We’re going to be ahead of schedule big time,” he noted.

The horticultural world is seeing a similar change of pace.

“I’ve been gardening all year long!” said Bridgehampton resident Paige Patterson, an avid gardener and garden consultant at Marder’s Nursery. “My garlic is up, so is my hellebore, and the daffodils are already six inches [tall],” she explained. Patterson went on to say she has two flowering trees in her yard, including a flowering Japanese apricot, which is already in bloom. “I have the most spectacular pink trees!”

Still, she added, “The most impressive thing is that my rose bush has new leaves on it… that’s crazy.”

She said rose bushes typically don’t sprout leaves until well into March, and hers had foliage in February.

According to Patterson, mild weather patterns will lead to a “gorgeous” spring — that is, if a cold snap doesn’t get in the way.

If a freak cold spell hits the East End while plants are starting to bud, Patterson said the blooms will get killed off. While most species of flower will regenerate and work toward re-blooming later in the season, she said the situation is not so sunny for hydrangeas.

The white, soft-serve-ice-cream-shaped Hydrangea Paniculata, will be able to weather the storm, but “Most hydrangeas only have one set of buds,” she explained, like the Nikko Blues that pepper the East End in the summer months.

“They set their flower buds in early August,” Patterson began. “The problem we first had was that [Tropical Storm Irene] defoliated everything. The salt air got on everything and all the leaves browned. So, most of the 2012 buds actually opened in 2011. The ones that didn’t are opening now.”

Because these flowers do not regenerate growth as readily as other flowers, Patterson said any freezing cold weather at this point could potentially kill-off the blue Nikko Hydrangeas for the season.

As for the climate we’ll be privy to in the spring, that much remains to be seen. What Patterson, and others, are already predicting with some degree of certainty, however, concerns another aspect of gardening: pests.

“I think we’re going to have a really bad bug year,” Patterson added. “I’m really stressed about that.”

According to Geoffrey Nimmer of East End Garden Design, the relatively warm weather combined with the lack of moisture we’ve experienced this year combine to create a recipe not only for more bugs, but for fungi.

“Fungi that lives in the ground and affects roses and some flowering trees are usually kept at least somewhat in check by a good hard freeze,” Nimmer wrote in an email. “I think it will be particularly hard on turf, both because of the fungus issue and because there will be more grubs closer to the roots of lawns earlier in the season.”

According to the circle of life, Nimmer continued, grubs mean moles and moles very often bring voles. And neither vermin happen to be good for vegetation.

And unfortunately, as many of us know, certain warm-weather pests are not restricted to the gardening arena.

Former East Hampton Town Natural Resources Director Larry Penny, who lives in Noyac, said this year’s weather conditions could have created a big year for everyone’s favorite summertime arachnid: the tick.

“Just last Wednesday I got an adult female deer tick on me,” Penny said. “That’s the earliest I’ve ever seen them in winter.”

In the vein of springtime annoyances, Sag Harbor resident Lester Ware said he’s already started taking allergy medicine, a spring-time routine he began this year mid-February.

“It’s as early as I’ve ever taken it,” he exclaimed, saying he usually begins taking meds late-March.

According to Dr. Richard Nass — an ear, nose and throat doctor with offices in Amagansett — these early sneezes may not have a direct correlation to pollen count, at least not yet. He said biometric pressure changes that occur when the seasons shift initially cause nose and throat membranes to get agitated.

However, he added, this may just be the beginnings of more successive sneezes.

“In the long term, it’s been a wet season, so the root systems of plants have done very well,” he continued. So, in that sense, “we would expect it to be a bad allergy season.”

For his part, Penny has seen a lot of seasons come and go, and this one, he noted, is very odd indeed.

“This is the most unusual winter I’ve experienced in 76 years,” said Penny, referencing influential paleontologist George Gaylord Simpson who coined a theory he referred to as “sweepstakes,” which deals with random moments in evolution.

As Penny explained it, “Things come and go according to the season, but there’s always the chance that something unusual will happen to change the whole direction of evolution and nature.”

This year, reproductive rates are already up, Penny added, and with such warm weather fostering many throughout the winter, he said many species might grow even more.

“One group that’s going to really go sky high is the turkeys, they’re all over the place.” Penny continued. “And because the numbers are so high to begin with, when they get a little extra food from [more] vegetation and insects they’ll go hog wild.”

He predicted that the East End could be in the midst of a so-called “sweepstakes.”

Although, he said, cold weather would throw a wrench in the spokes. And, you never know, it could very well snow in June.

Tick Talk

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tick pic adjusted
By Claire Walla

In case you hadn’t heard, fashion designer Ally Hilfiger — daughter of famed fashion icon Tommy — was in Sag Harbor last Friday, August 19. But it’s not a story the tabloids picked up on.

“I had Lyme disease fro 19 years and was undiagnosed for 11,” Hilfiger told a crowd of nearly 100 people who had gathered inside the Bay Street Theatre that afternoon. She was among four speakers — including physicians Dr. George Dempsey, Dr. Darren Wiggins and Dr. Benjamin Luff — who had come for a forum put on by Connecticut-based non-profit Time For Lyme.

Above (from left to right): Dr. Darren Wiggins, Ally Hilfiger and Dr. George Dempsey.

As isolated heads in the crowd nodded in empathy, Hilfiger (now 26) explained that she believes her case of Lyme went back to when she was seven-years-old and spending the summer in Bridgehampton. She had been bitten by a tick, but it hadn’t caused a bulls-eye rash.

Even so, “I had fatigue and joint pain, and eventually it turned into confusion,” she said, her brow furrowed. “Lyme disease had crossed the blood-brain barrier. I spent a lot of my life in ‘the fog.’”

She went on to say that she saw several specialists who misdiagnosed her case as multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia, among other diseases. Finally, it was a specialist in Boston who treated her for Lyme and for seven years she was on antibiotics and IV drips.

“Today, it’s been a full year since I felt completely better,” she said.

The purpose of the day’s forum, she continued, was to give the East End community the impetus to act if symptoms of Lyme crop up.

“I want you guys to know that your tests can come back wrong,” she said. “You have a right to follow your instincts. The symptoms you are feeling are real.”

Dr. George P. Dempsey, who runs a family practice in East Hampton, said he’s “fascinated” with studying and learning more about Lyme disease, which he frequently treats at his practice on Pantigo Place.

Picking up where Hilfiger left off, he tried to fill in the details of tick behavior and anatomy, both of which he said are important for East End residents to be aware of so they know what to look for and what to avoid when it comes to the small, black critters. He explained that ticks typically have a two-year lifecycle and are more likely to carry Lyme in their second year, after they’ve had the opportunity to be exposed to more white-tailed deer and mice, where they pick-up the disease.

“About a third of ticks have more than just Lyme in them,” he said.

Dr. Dempsey went on to explain that ticks also have a sense of smell, which means they know when you’re around. “They smell animals and they like to go on trails,” he said, adding, “Ticks know where to go.”

The East End carries three types of ticks: deer ticks, dog ticks and Lone Star ticks. While he said the latter do not carry Lyme, they can be infected with a whole host of other diseases: anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, powassan virus, tick fever and Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness (STARI) among them. “Now we have to figure out how many people with Lyme disease actually have other infections.”

For physician Darren Wiggins, who is the chairman of the department of emergency medicine at Southampton Hospital, Lyme is more prevalent than many people believe. He said Southampton Hospital treats 24,000 patients a year for the disease, most of these cases occurring in the summer months.

But, Southampton physicians have been trained to look for and test for Lyme, he went on. Regarding a symptom like facial nerve palsy, he said, “out here it’s Lyme disease until proven otherwise. In [other places like] Arizona, it’s not.” Meningitis could also be Lyme disease, he added, which is why “we do a lot more spinal taps than most ERs do.”

Lyme is easily treated in its early stages with antibiotics. It’s only when the disease progresses to stage three that it becomes hard to diagnose. (He said Lyme characteristics bear an uncanny resemblance to syphilis, and Babesiosis looks very much like malaria.) That being said, he cautioned people to take preventative action to avoid the disease progressing into stage three.

Increased fatigue and muscle pain could be Lyme, he said. (He emphasized that coughing, stuffy noses and diarrhea are not typically Lyme symptoms.) “Most people will also get a rash [if they have Lyme], and that’s usually when the tick is long-gone,” he said. “It’s typically about the size of a silver dollar. If it’s smaller, it’s probably not Lyme disease.”

Like Dr. Dempsey, Dr. Wiggins said this in no way means people should avoid the outdoors, even heavily wooded areas; but, they should proceed with caution. “Avoidance and prevention is 90 percent of what we’re doing,” he went on. “You have to strip to do a tick check. You have to check every crack and cranny, so do it with someone you love because they have to look everywhere.”

Dr. Benjamin Luff, whose interest in the disease hinges more on the research side of things, did say that he’s developed a vaccine that is now being tested in Europe. (While the FDA approved a vaccine in the U.S., it was only on the market from 1998 to 2002, when it was withdrawn by the manufacturer after some of those who got the vaccine claimed it caused health problems.)

“We believe it will be effective against all strains of Lyme disease,” he said, adding that he will know the results of the study in about three years. But already, early tests look promising: “Certainly in mice it’s really great!”

Word Has It Tick Numbers Are Up

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By Claire Walla

What’s small, black, and has the potential to give you up to a dozen different diseases?

Chances are, if you live on the East End, you didn’t even have to progress past the first four words of that sentence to come to the answer.


And according to numerous accounts, the presence of this poppy seed-size insect is more bountiful this year than last.

Though ticks are prevalent around the world, East Hampton Town Natural Resources Director Larry Penny said one of the reasons they flourish in this area has to do with geography.

“When you add up all the mammals and birds, there are an awful lot of animals out here per square foot,” Penny explained.

Though it also has to do with nature.

“It’s mainly a predator/prey cycle thing,” Penny explained.  “It has to do with the population of the mammals that [ticks] live on,” he said.  “The deer, vole and raccoon populations are really high this year.”

Especially vole. Penny said the population for this small mouse-like rodent has “sky-rocketed” ever since the fox population began to decline on the East End.

“They’re almost at a record high out here,” he added.

Such news is certainly unpleasant to those who cringe at any noted upsurge in the bug population, but it’s more universally unsettling when it comes to issues of public health.

There are three tick varieties known to live on the East End, and each can carry what’s known as Lyme disease, an ailment that can affects the central nervous system and — if left untreated — can bring-on symptoms that are similar in characteristics to arthritis, multiple sclerosis and ALS.

Larry Penny is no stranger to Lyme.

“It starts with an achiness here or there, then your head gets foggy,” explained Penny, who was stricken with the disease after being bitten by a tick while working in the field.  “I had a strong central nervous system, but it affected my memory and my judgment.”

By Penny’s estimate, at least 50 percent of the population of the East End has been bitten by a tick — either a deer tick (the most prevalent), dog tick (the largest size-wise) or Lone Star tick. Penny added that about 40 percent of them are thought to carry the spirochete that causes Lyme disease.

If detected early enough, the disease can be combated with a dose of antibiotics.

But, Penny added that some people can contract a-symptomatic Lyme disease, in which the bacteria will lay dormant in the body until months, or even years down the road.

Penny told of a woman he knew who was bitten by a tick at age 14 and thought nothing of it until — 15 years later — she started to exhibit long-term symptoms of the disease.  Only after a spinal tap did she discover she had Lyme, and by that point she needed intravenous treatments and antibiotics.

“Those are the worst,” he said, “because you might not treat them until you’re in bad shape.”

Having originated in Texas, Penny said the Lone Star tick is the most recent to have been discovered in the area.  Based on the results of a process called “flagging for ticks” — during which a piece of cloth is dragged through foliage, theoretically collecting ticks along the way — Penny said in 1993 this species was only found to exist in Montauk and on Gardiner’s Island.

“But by 2000, they were pretty much all over East Hampton,” he added.

“It’s very fast in its movements compared to the deer tick,” Penny continued, adding that the Lone Star is distinguished from deer and dog ticks by the white dot on its back.  Whereas the deer tick is rarely found in foliage above the knee, the Lone Star Tick can climb four or five feet high, Penny added.

“It’s a real scrambler,” he said.

In addition to Lyme, ticks can spread other diseases like Babesiosis and West Nile Virus.

“It always amazes me that people are more worried about West Nile disease — which we have seen out here, but is very rare — as opposed to Lyme disease,” Penny added.

Part of the problem with Lyme, said East Hampton resident and author Jay McInerney, is that the blood tests meant to detect the disease aren’t always accurate.

“Both of my kids have been diagnosed with Lyme disease,” McInerney said. “And unfortunately, they weren’t diagnosed early enough.”

McInerney said his son and daughter (twins) both got tick bites around age 14, and when they were tested for Lyme, the results came back negative. It wasn’t until two years later, when symptoms began to crop up, that his children first began seeking medical attention.

He said his children have missed about a year of school in the process of getting the diagnosis. Having traveled throughout New York and New Jersey seeking medical help, he added that “Lyme-literate” doctors are hard to come by on the East End.

“The tests seem to be only semi-reliable,” McInerney continued. “For anyone who goes through the standard protocol of two weeks of antibiotics and still has symptoms, you’re operating in a mysterious area after that.”

Stacey Sobel is the executive director of an organization called Turn the Corner, whose sole purpose is to educate people about the presence of ticks and the consequences of tick bites. The organization maintains a website where people can read about Lyme disease and solicit advice. A big part of Turn the Corner’s mission is also to educate doctors around the world on how to detect early signs of Lyme, and other tick-born illnesses.  So far, Sobel said about 100 doctors have been trained in the U.S.

“Ticks carry multiple bacteria,” she explained. In addition to Lyme, there are at least 11 other diseases that can be contracted from the small black bugs.

For this reason, East End physician Dr. Joseph Burrascano calls ticks “nature’s dirty needles.”

Though he closed his practice about three years ago, Dr. Burrascano still educates doctors and communities about the potential harms and preventative measure associated with ticks.

“It’s very controversial,” Dr. Burrascano said of Lyme disease. “In the early state of Lyme’s, it takes four or more weeks for the bacteria to show. And because the blood test currently looks for a person’s reaction to the disease — rather than the actual Lyme bacteria itself — the results can be spotty.

“If you’ve never had Lyme before, the chance of a false positive is about five percent,” he said. However, he added that one’s blood work can still come out positive “sometimes for months, or sometimes for years,” even if the bacteria is gone.

“The trick is to find it early and treat it,” Dr. Burrascano said. “If you really think it’s Lyme, take the antibiotic. Get some treatment going early. A doctor can give you a week’s supply of medicine [while waiting for the results of blood work],” he continued.

As for Sobel, she added, “People need to be educated and aware. The longer it goes untreated, the sicker you can get.”

The best method of prevention, as far as Sobel’s concerned, is taking proactive measures to avoid tick bites in the first place. She and Penny both caution East End residents to wear long clothing when traveling though tall grasses, and try not to brush up against any kind of foliage. And most important: check yourself after being outside.

Since his children came down with the disease, McInerney said ticks have been high on his radar.

“It’s not just my kids, I have a lot of friends who have been affected by ticks. It’s tough if you’re a pet lover. I actually know people who sold their houses and left this area [because of ticks],” McInerney noted.

But, he added, he has no plans to move anytime soon.

“I check myself really carefully, I don’t really go in the woods this time of year, we treat our lawn (by keeping it really short) … and I try not to rub up against any brush,” he explained. “For better or worse, I don’t feel entirely disillusioned with my environment.”

A screening of the award-winning documentary “Under Our Skin” will take place on Sunday, June 26 from 3 to 6 p.m. at Vared Gallery in East Hampton.  A Q&A with Turn the Corner Executive Director Stacey Sobel and Dr. Leo Galland and Dr. Jeffrey Morrison (medical specialists on Lyme disease) will immediately follow.