Featured Story
07/14/17 6:00am
07/14/2017 6:00 AM

Summer on the North Fork comes with warnings about ticks and concerns about the illnesses they can transmit, such as Lyme disease. But lately other lesser-known tick-borne ailments are grabbing the attention of East End locals, who reach out to experts because they are concerned the situation is worsening.

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Featured Story
05/08/16 6:00am
05/08/2016 6:00 AM

Last summer, a homeowner in the Nassau Point section of Cutchogue did everything he could to protect himself from contracting a tick-borne illness. He sprayed his lawn with repellent three times and cleared his property of the brush and leaves so attractive to the bloodsucking arachnids.  READ

04/26/15 10:00am
04/26/2015 10:00 AM

As a young scientist, I trained as a post-doctoral fellow with the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. Long before Babesia became part of our local lexicon, I was searching for this and other causes of zoonotic diseases (i.e., those transmissible from animals to man) in the jungles and rural areas of Colombia. I therefore have a particular appreciation for the dangers posed by the current prevalence of ticks and tick-borne diseases on Long Island.  (more…)

04/20/15 8:00am
04/20/2015 8:00 AM

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A rare and potentially fatal tick-borne illness is becoming increasingly prevalent throughout the Northeast, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Cases of the Neuroinvasive Powassan Virus, or POW, are few and far between but are often serious and becoming more common — both in terms of diagnosis and notoriety. Earlier this month Powassan, which can cause brain inflammation, caused a stir in Connecticut when state officials there announced the disease is starting to show up in more deer ticks in Bridgeport and Branford.

The story has since received national news coverage. (more…)

08/09/14 2:00pm
08/09/2014 2:00 PM

As has now been obvious for too long, we have a serious problem with tick-borne diseases on eastern Long Island. These can be challenging to diagnose and treat and sometimes progress to debilitating chronic or even fatal illnesses. More effective methods to control our excessive tick populations and prevent human infections are sorely needed.  (more…)

06/20/14 12:00pm
06/20/2014 12:00 PM
An adult deer tick, which are known to carry pathogens causing Lyme disease, babesiosis or anaplasmosis. (Credit: Daniel Gilrein Courtesy Photo)

An adult deer tick, which are known to carry pathogens causing Lyme disease, babesiosis or anaplasmosis. (Credit: Daniel Gilrein Courtesy Photo)

New data outlining the extent of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases in New York State was released Thursday by a state Senate group that also came up with an action plan for combating the spread of such diseases.

Known as the Senate Majority Coalition Task Force on Lyme and Tick Borne Diseases, the task force was organized in October amid rising concerns regarding the spread of such diseases statewide.

(more…)

02/24/14 7:00am
02/24/2014 7:00 AM
Engorged ticks. (Courtesy photo from the University of Nebraska)

Engorged ticks. (Courtesy photo from the University of Nebraska)

Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman is sponsoring a bill to create a tick control advisory committee.

The legislation is expected to be discussed at the county Legislature’s Public Works & Public Transportation Committee meeting at 2 p.m. in Hauppauge.

(more…)

11/25/13 10:00am
11/25/2013 10:00 AM
PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Southold Supervisor Scott Russell addresses the crowd at Saturday's deer management meeting in Orient.

PAUL SQUIRE PHOTO | Southold Supervisor Scott Russell addresses the crowd at Saturday’s deer management meeting in Orient.

A sharpshooting program is in the works to cull the North Fork’s rising deer population, town officials and volunteers said at a deer management forum in Orient Saturday morning.

Don Stewart with the North Fork Deer Management Alliance volunteer group said he is hopeful the program — which uses teams of skilled marksmen to eliminate dozens of deer at a time — will begin next month.

The sharp shooter program is run through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services department, and will be paid for in part by a $200,000 grant secured by the Long Island Farm Bureau. The five East End Towns will have an opportunity to pay their own funds into the program, Mr. Stewart said.

About 50 people attended the forum held at Poquatuck Hall in Orient, the second Town meeting on deer control this fall after more than 200 people crowded into a forum in Peconic in September.

By aggressively cutting down the deer population, Mr. Stewart said, the North Fork will see less environmental damage from deer grazing, fewer tick-borne illnesses and will reduce deer-related car accidents.

While hunting by locals is a valuable part of deer management, it would not cause the “radical reduction” necessary on its own to bring the deer to manageable levels, Mr. Stewart said.

Other so-called humane approaches, like sterilization or contraception techniques, are more complex than they seem and would not do enough to limit the deer population, he added.

“At best its only going to keep an unacceptably high level of deer from expanding further,” Mr. Stewart said. “You’re not going to bring these levels down to where you need it.”

Having sharpshooters pick off dozens of deer seems cruel, he said, but it’s better than having hunters who might miss their shots do the bulk of the culling.

“You [won’t] have animals that are wounded walking around the countryside,” he said.

The Town of Southold has taken steps to make it easier for hunters to tag deer, like waiving fees on carcasses and opening up town land to hunters. But town officials said private land owners need to open up their properties to hunters. Otherwise the deer will simply move to safer areas and continue to reproduce.

Supervisor Scott Russell had said state regulations on hunting have limited the town’s efforts so far. Hunters are not allowed to hunt within 500 feet of structures, including sheds.

Mr. Russell said the law is designed for rural areas like upstate New York, but doesn’t account for the denser population on the North Fork.

Speaker Sherry Thomas said the deer population will reach catastrophic levels soon if proactive steps are not taken. While deer management officials say there should be no more than 15 deer per square mile, the North Fork has about 65 per square mile, she said.

If nothing is done to stop the deer population explosion, there could be an estimated 400 deer per square mile in the next 10 years, Ms. Thomas said.

“It’s only going to go from unsustainable to disastrous,” she said.

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11/24/13 4:00pm
11/24/2013 4:00 PM
CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Amber Abolafia of Orient plays with her daughter Dakota, 2, at Old Schoolhouse Park in East Marion, where she believes she was bit by a tick.

CARRIE MILLER PHOTO | Amber Abolafia of Orient plays with her daughter Dakota, 2, at Old Schoolhouse Park in East Marion, where she believes she was bit by a tick.

Between daily naps and popping medicine to help with achy muscles and joints, 25-year-old Lyme disease patient Amber Abolafia of Orient has spent the last six months doctor shopping – looking for a physician who’s truly knowledgeable about her disease.

“It’s scary,” she said. “Our doctors are not informed enough and I don’t think they have the tools to be informed enough. There is just so much more to learn about the disease.”

Her struggle with Lyme led her to join more than 50 other area residents  many of whom also have issues with tick-borne illness – for an opportunity to hear from health experts at a special East Marion Community Association forum held last Saturday at the East Marion firehouse.

Infectious disease specialist Dr. Rajeev Fernando of Southampton Hospital and Jerry Simons, certified physician’s assistant and expert contributor to the national publication Lyme Times magazine, spoke about illnesses common on the North Fork — and answered questions from anxious audience members.

The two have teamed up with Southampton Hospital to start the Tick Borne Disease Resource Center, which seeks to educate both health care professionals and the public about tick-borne illnesses — and the correct steps to take if one gets bitten.

The experts said differences in the way physicians test and treat patients can play a huge role in whether the patient is cured or left suffering and searching for answers.

“I am trying to just educate the local doctors and say, ‘This is what we should be doing,’ ” Dr. Fernando said.

In August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an estimated 300,000 new cases of Lyme annually in the United States – a tenfold increase over the previous year’s estimate. Dr. Fernando said New York State leads the U.S. in reported cases.

“[The East End] is one of the worse tick areas in the country,” Mr. Simons said. “People in the area should be the smartest people on the planet about Lyme disease because it’s so bad out here.”

The experts spent most of their time discussing Lyme, which is caused by a spiral-shaped bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. The tick’s bite transfers the bacteria, which can cause fever, headache and fatigue and sometimes — less than half the time, according to Dr. Fernando — leaves a distinguishing bull’s-eye rash at the site of the bite.

If left untreated, the infection can spread to joints, the heart, the nervous system and the brain, Dr. Fernando said.

Like many other diseases, Lyme disease comes in different strains — and experts warned those attending Saturday’s forum that not all tests check for all strains. Where patients get tested can also play a role in whether they are properly diagnosed, Mr. Simons said.

Commercial blood testing labs, such as Quest Diagnostics, test only for strains required by CDC and Food and Drug Administration. Mr. Simons suggested instead that people find a lab that tests for almost all known strains of the bacteria, such as one of the labs run by Stony Brook University.

While being tested for Lyme, they said, patients should also ask to be tested for other tick-borne diseases, because ticks can carry more than one disease, potentially giving people what’s called co-infections.

“It’s not unreasonable to ask your physician for a four-panel tick-borne disease test,” Dr. Fernando said.

The test, known more commonly as a TBD4 test, checks for Lyme, babesiosis, anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis – the four most common tick-borne illnesses in this area, he said. Three of these will show up in tests almost immediately, but it can take up to four weeks for Lyme to register in any of these tests, Dr. Fernando said.

“Unfortunately a lot of doctors aren’t exposed to this and they do the blood test too soon,” he said. This means that some infected patients may walk away without being diagnosed. Should someone get bitten and see any sort of rash, Dr. Fernando said his suggested protocol would be to start antibiotic treatment and “tell your doctor it’s going to take four weeks to do the test.”

Ms. Abolafia of Orient was one of those Lyme disease patients who was tested the second she walked into a doctor’s office – about six days after she believed she was bitten. Luckily, she tested positive, she said.

But because of her ordeal, she’s now worried that she may be in the category of people who suffer from what’s known as chronic Lyme.

Ms. Abolafi a said she has been tested three times for the disease – and has gotten mixed results. In the past six-plus months, despite consulting several different doctors, she said she’s taken only 10 days’ worth of antibiotics, the minimum standard course of treatment according to CDC guidelines.

“If I could give advice to anyone, keep pushing your doctor until you get the care you need,” she said. “It’s never going to get better unless you become your own advocate.”

Dr. Fernando said there’s controversy regarding the treatment guidelines for patients who test positive for Lyme.

CDC guidelines for treating Lyme disease state that patients should be put on antibiotic such as Doxycycline for 10 to 21 days but Dr. Fernando said the guidelines should not be used as the end-all for all cases.

“The patient in front of you is what matters the most,” he said. “It’s important to think outside the guidelines in some cases.”

He said about 25 percent of patients may come back within six months of treatment, some suffering from chronic Lyme disease.

But experts are still fighting over whether this chronic stage of the disease even exists.

“It’s very political,” the doctor said.

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