Warm weather brings ticks

The warm spring has at least one downside for those who like to spend time outdoors, as ticks — incl
Mary Jo Bracken of Saratoga Springs and her dog, Tango, walk late Thursday afternoon along the Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail.
Mary Jo Bracken of Saratoga Springs and her dog, Tango, walk late Thursday afternoon along the Bog Meadow Brook Nature Trail.

The warm spring has at least one downside for those who like to spend time outdoors, as ticks — including the deer ticks that carry potentially debilitating Lyme disease — are becoming active earlier than normal.

Saratoga County officials have already issued a warning to the public.

“I noticed in late March that ticks were already present on the trails in and around Saratoga Springs,” said Matthew Veitch, a Saratoga Springs supervisor and chairman of the country Trails Committee.

Most years, public health officials don’t start their tick surveillance until May, but the warm weather means the ticks have become active earlier, and people are calling health officials about them.

“We’re getting more calls earlier, and it’s because of the nice weather,” said Kerri Battle, a spokeswoman for Albany County, where the county Health Department fields the calls.

“It was a mild winter and then it’s been an early spring, so people are outside more,” Battle said.

The tick-borne illness is now found throughout the Capital Region, according to state Health Department statistics.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that is treatable with antibiotics in its early stages, but can be painful and even disabling if left untreated.

Albany County in 2009 had 637 confirmed or suspected cases, trailing only Orange, Dutchess and Westchester counties in the lower Hudson Valley for the most cases in the state, according to Health Department counts that are still provisional. There were an estimated 8,457 cases statewide, up from 6,986 confirmed or suspected cases reported statewide in 2008.

The Health Department now considers Lyme disease to be endemic across the state, as reports of cases shifted northward from Long Island and the Hudson Valley over the past decade.

“We see that slowly it is moving north. Counties like Albany, Saratoga, Schenectady and Rensselaer counties in the Capital Region are a good example of that,” said Claire Pospisil, a spokeswoman for the Health Department.

Saratoga and Schenectady counties saw statistically significant jumps from 2008 to 2009, with Saratoga increasing from 364 to 402 cases and Schenectady from 93 to 125. Other local counties showed relatively little change from 2008.

Counties just to the west and in the Adirondacks still report relatively few cases, with Hamilton County reporting just one case last year.

The state’s reporting system is based on where the case occurs, though some people pick up the disease elsewhere while traveling and report it in their home county, health officials acknowledge.

Even though it’s early in the spring, Pospisil said it’s time for people to start taking precautions when they’re hiking or doing other outdoor activities.

“When the temperatures rise, ticks are more active and we urge people to start taking precautions,” she said. “It’s not too early to start precautions.”

The basic precautions include:

u Using repellents that include DEET, permethrin, picardin or oil of lemon eucalyptus. All are considered effective, though the state Health Department cautions that all should be applied only according to their label directions, and adults should apply them to children.

u Wearing light-colored clothing so the dark ticks can be spotted more easily, and tucking pants into socks when hiking in wooded and grassy areas.

u Checking every two or three hours to allow ticks to be removed from clothing before they attach to the skin.

u Checking for ticks at the end of the day and removing them with tweezers if found to be attached.

“The risk of acquiring Lyme disease is greatly reduced if the tick is removed within the first 36 hours after attachment,” said Terry Stortz, director of preventive health services for Saratoga County Public Health.

Flu-like symptoms or a bulls-eye rash within 30 days after an exposure should be reported to a doctor immediately.

Dogs, horses and cattle can also get Lyme disease.

Ticks can be brought to a local health department office for testing, but the tests only determine whether the tick is a potentially disease-carrying deer tick, not whether it carries the Lyme bacteria, Stortz said. “Not all ticks are infected,” she said.

More information is available from the state Health Department at www.health.state.ny.us/diseases/communicable/lyme.

Categories: Schenectady County

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