The auxiliary room at the East Marion Fire Department Saturday filled with gasps as the audience at a tick-borne illness forum, presented by the East Marion Community Association, learned an adult female tick can have hundreds to thousands of offspring at a time.
Mating on the bodies of deer, hundreds of ticks can be on the mammal at once and fall off wherever the deer is. This means if a deer comes into your yard they can leave an untold number of ticks behind, creating an increased risk for Lyme and other diseases, said Anna-Marie Wellins of Stony Brook Southampton Hospital’s Regional Tick-Borne Disease Resource Center.
“It really is a public health crisis for the Northeast and Long Island,” she said.
Dr. Wellins explained it takes ticks 72 hours to complete a blood meal — when they feed on mice, deer or humans — depending on where they are in their life cycle.
As larvae they feed on white mice, which is when the ticks become infected with Lyme disease. As nymphs and adults they feed on deer and humans. It takes around 48 hours for the tick to begin infecting a human with Lyme disease, she said.
She added that rashes, a common indicator of Lyme disease, don’t always appear.
If a rash does appear, it can sometimes take between three and 30 days to become visible. Dr. Wellins suggests that people who do get rashes from a tick bite should begin antibiotics immediately, whether or not they feel sick, in order to limit their chances of developing chronic Lyme disease. Those who don’t develop rashes but come down with flu-like symptoms — headaches, fevers, chills, neck pain, muscle aches or joint pain — especially during the summer should contact their doctors because they may be infected with a tick-borne disease.
Dr. Wellins explained that the increase in Lyme disease is a man-made problem, noting that disrupting forests, landscapes and animal habitats have contributed to the widespread of the disease.
“Ticks have been around forever,” she said. “Because we have impacted the environment to the extent we have, we created this. The solution is not that easy. It’s going to take a multitude of approaches to get a handle on this problem.”
Dr. Wellins said Stony Brook Southampton’s tick hotline has received over 850 calls so far this year, more than double the 428 calls made in 2016.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 95 percent of confirmed Lyme disease cases were reported from 14 states, including New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Over 25,000 confirmed cases were reported in the United States in 2016, with the number of probable cases increasing to over 35,000.
Amid growing public concern, Southold Town has initiated numerous efforts to try to decrease the number of deer and ticks in the area, said Craig Jobes, environmental analyst for Southold Town, at Saturday’s forum.
He said the town isn’t looking to eliminate deer, but rather decrease the number to create a healthier ecosystem for people and animals alike.
Some of these efforts include maintaining a list of hunters that landowners can contact to hunt deer on their property, providing a refrigerated trailer for hunters to donate their harvest, and continuing the recently introduced quail restoration program.
“One of our goals is to obtain a deer density of eight to 10 deer per square mile,” Mr. Jobes said. “One big thing a lot of people are working on is to try and get crossbows utilized in Southold Town. This opens up a lot of opportunity for somebody to harvest deer … they do have a lot more power than a regular bow.”
Additionally, the town works with New York State by participating in the NYSDEC Deer Management Assistance Program and the NYSDEC Deer Damage Permit “Nuisance” Program, which enables the town to issue additional antlerless deer tags. Only licensed bow hunters are eligible to participate. Crossbows can be used with a nuisance permit.
Photo credit: Nicole Smith