Suffolk County is one step closer to better managing its growing tick population and the resulting health concerns.
The county Legislature passed a law Tuesday requiring Suffolk County Vector Control to aggressively address the increase in cases of tick-borne disease.
Approved 16-0, with one abstention, the bill requires county Vector Control, which is charged with controlling the spread of insect-borne diseases, to submit an annual plan to combat their occurrence. Outlined in the plan should be the measures being taken, work to be done and an analysis to determine the program’s effectiveness, legislators said.
The measure has the support of County Executive Steve Bellone, who was represented by a deputy executive at Tuesday’s meeting and now will sign the bill into law.
In recent years, Vector Control has focused mainly on mosquito-borne illnesses, such as West Nile virus, said county Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk), the new law’s primary sponsor. But an individual is 300 times more likely to contract Lyme disease than West Nile virus, according to a press release from Mr. Schneiderman’s office.
Lyme disease is now the most widespread vector-borne disease in the U.S., but cases are often under-reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
“Most of us have been impacted in some way by tick-borne disease,” said county Legislator Al Krupski, a co-sponsor of the measure. “This is a problem that seems to be a recent phenomenon and the quicker we act on it to try and address it the better.”
Vector Control officials have about a year to develop a plan, which will be due next October, Mr. Schneiderman said. County residents will not benefit from the plan until it goes into effect in 2015, he said, adding that funding for the plan will be considered in the 2015 budget.
“But I don’t think [the budget] should be driving the train here,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “I think public health should be the main consideration. We’ll figure out what we should be doing and then let’s figure out how to pay for it.”
Mr. Schneiderman said he envisions a comprehensive plan that begins by studying the number of deer, rodents and ticks in the county, to better understand the role each plays.
“We don’t really have a handle on how many ticks there are or where they are,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “They are going to have to start getting counts. That is what Vector Control does with mosquitoes — they have a really good handle and hopefully they will be able to do the same thing with ticks.”
With data in place, he said, a viable plan will follow. He said simply focusing on deer, the target for tick control among many local communities, will not be enough.
“I think a real tick-control program has to go way beyond deer,” Mr. Schneiderman said. “It’s going to get into rodent control, clearing high grass areas and maybe even controlled burning in certain areas. There are a lot of things the plan could include.”
Mr. Krupski said he “would like to see [vector control] focused on more deer control, and to letting people do more effective deer control. Right now what can be done legally is just not effective.”
Some residents have voiced concern that the plan may include aerial spraying, as is done for mosquito control, Mr. Schneiderman said.
“I don’t honestly think that it will,” he said. “There is no product out there that will just kill ticks and I don’t think that is going to happen.”
Both legislators said they will be working closely with representatives from Vector Control as they piece the plan together.
After being bitten by several ticks so far this season and “luckily” not getting sick, Mr. Schneiderman said this new legislation is just the beginning of his work on the issue.
“I am not stopping here,” he said. “My next step is to try to convince the state that this is a health emergency. I want to assemble the people together to make that case to the state so we can get the door open for funding. And I want to correspond with our senators and Congressman Bishop to try and get federal attention to this issue.”