Health & Environment

Tick committee suggests 4 new positions to monitor population

The county's tick committee said more resources are needed to combat tick-borne illness. (Cyndi Murray photo)
The county’s tick committee said more resources are needed to combat tick-borne illness. (Cyndi Murray photo)

Suffolk County’s newly formed tick advisory committee wants the county to hire new full-time employees to comprehensively combat tick-borne illnesses.

On Tuesday, the 12-member panel suggested the county’s proposed 2015 spending plan should include a budget for four new employees that would work exclusively on monitoring the tick population and illnesses they carry.

Members said that budget should afford the Suffolk County Health Department enough to hire a biologist, epidemiologist and two lab technicians. The scope of work would include researchers going into the field to collect tick specimens and helping to determine the number of ticks in Suffolk County. It would not include any methods for controlling ticks.

“It takes a lot of time to do tick surveillance, but to me, it is a first step,” said Dominick Ninivaggi, director of the county’s division of vector control. “We are going to have to wait for an environmental impact statement to do any control methods, but we can get started on surveillance. This is a big enough problem where the county should consider putting someone on staff to deal with ticks full time. Conducting surveillance of tick populations would require someone’s attention on a full-time basis.”

At this point it is not clear where the monitoring would take place, nor how much it would take to fund the new positions and the project.

Jay Schneiderman (I-Montuak), the South Fork legislator who co-sponsored the legislation creating the committee, said he would meet with fellow legislators and health department officials to find a cost estimate. Although members would like to see the positions included in the 2015 budget — which has already been drafted by County Executive Steve Bellone — Mr. Schneiderman said a last minute amendment would be a challenge.

“It is always more challenging after the budget is proposed, but hopefully we can pull together a cost estimate,” Mr. Schneiderman said.

Monitoring the tick population is one recommendation the tick committee has suggested since it started meeting on a monthly basis in July. It is still considering methods of control.  The group is charged with advising the county’s vector control division, which is traditionally charged with controlling mosquito infestations, but whose yearly plans will now include a section on reducing tick-borne illnesses.

Mr. Ninivaggi said vector control has submitted its annual recommendations for the county for 2015, however, the report doesn’t offer a comprehensive plan for combating tick-borne illness. Instead, vector control’s recommendations for tick control are based using existing resources, Mr. Ninivaggi said. Suggestions include continuing to work with the county’s tick committee and reaching out to more experts in the field of tick-borne illness, he said.

“The part on ticks is short, because we are limited in our resources, but it is a start,” Mr. Ninivaggi said.  “Hopefully this time next year we will have a little more meat to it.”