It takes only 15 minutes on the Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike Trail for more than a dozen ticks to latch onto Keri Pratico’s German shepherds.
The Rotterdam Junction resident routinely plucks up to a half-dozen of the disease-carrying parasites from her cat each night. Then one day last month, she found a deer tick attached to her underarm.
“It’s out of control down here,” she said this week. “And it’s getting worse every year.” Less than a decade ago, Pratico didn’t worry about walking outside without tick repellent for herself or her pets. Now she pays about $126 every six months to provide her dogs with tick preventive that kills the small arachnids when they bite.
“I have to worry about it constantly,” she said. “I can’t even go on the bike trail anymore without getting ticks.”
She’s not the only one who has noticed a steady increase in the population of ticks. Several local veterinarians confirmed they’re seeing an increase in the number of pets testing positive for Lyme disease, a crippling bacterial infection often carried by deer ticks.
“There is definitely more ticks out there,” said Paul Sausville, a technician at the Rotterdam Veterinary Hospital who said he’s seeing about two pets each week testing positive for Lyme disease.
Before, Sausville said, the animals testing positive for Lyme disease were primarily hunting dogs and other animals taken along forest hikes. Now, he said, he’s seeing the bacteria show up in all types of pets.
“Now it seems like you can find it everywhere,” he said.
Marguerite Pearson, a spokeswoman with the Animal Protective Foundation in Glenville, said the clinic’s vets have diagnosed 17 cases of Lyme disease, which is up from the 10 identified last year at this time. The shelter had a total of 21 cases in 2008.
“We are seeing an increase,” she said.
Likewise, the state Department of Health has seen a dramatic rise in tick-related diseases throughout the greater Capital Region over the past six years. Most notably, the cases of Lyme disease recorded in a 17-county region surrounding the tri-city area have risen from 1,504 in 2002 to 2,841 in 2008 — an 88 percent increase.
In Schenectady County, the number of Lyme disease cases more than tripled between 2007 and 2008. Last year, 91 cases of the infection were reported, compared to seven recorded by the health department in 2002.
In fact, many tick-borne illnesses have been on the rise in the region, according to health department figures. Cases of human granulocytic anaplasmosis, a bacterial infection that causes fever, increased from seven in 2002 to 35 in 2008; instances of babesiosis, a malaria-like disease, increased from two to six over the six-year period.
Health Department spokeswoman Beth Goldberg said greater awareness resulting from public awareness campaigns could account for some of the increase. But she said recent surveys have shown an increase in the numbers of deer ticks in the northern and western regions of the state, where relatively few were found in recent years.
“It is difficult to determine the exact cause or causes of this geographic spread, and multiple factors may be involved, but changes to the environment are likely contributors,” she said in an e-mail. “Small climate changes can impact winter survival of deer ticks, and increases in temperature can allow ticks to expand their historic geographic range.”
Other factors that can affect tick distributions and densities include environmental changes such as land being cleared for homes. The figures could reflect developments being placed closer to environments where people are likely to encounter ticks.
Ward Stone, a wildlife pathologist for the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said New York doesn’t have the financial resources to track increases in the population of ticks. But, he said he’s received some reports this summer about a higher-than-normal number of ticks.
Stone said increases in the tick population could be resulting from increases in the number of mice or white-tailed deer, which are both prime feeding sources for the parasites. Both populations could also be bolstered by the relatively mild winter experienced in the Capital Region.
Research indicates ticks must feed for at least 36 hours before the host can contract the infectious pathogens. Health department officials recommend hikers perform daily checks for ticks and consider using repellents if traveling through known tick habitats.
Pratico said she’s taken heed of the warnings now. But she still wonders why the spread of ticks hasn’t caused more alarm among public health officials.
“Why aren’t they trying to control the tick population?” she asked. “I have to worry about it constantly.”