10/04/13 7:59am
10/04/2013 7:59 AM

DANIEL GILREIN COURTESY PHOTO | A blacklegged tick, otherwise known as the deer tick.

Thomas Feeley Jr. would spend his days in the yard of his Southold home, gardening and watching a small creek that framed a portion of his backyard on Long Creek Drive.

He had scattered a few chairs on the property where he could sit and rest in the sun throughout the day with his small dog, Tobey.

Every evening, as the sun began to set, families of deer could be seen drinking from the creek, his daughter, Denise Feeley-Manarel, recalled as she packed up her father’s home Tuesday morning.

COURTESY PHOTO | Thomas Feeley Jr. (below) of Southold died in August of babesiosis, which he contracted from a tick bite.

Mr. Feeley died Aug. 29 of complications from babesiosis – a tick-borne disease. It is one of six tick-borne illnesses present on Long Island, according to area health experts.

“We don’t know when he got bitten,” Ms. Feeley-Manarel said. “The scary thing is you can be bitten by a tick with babesiosis and not get the bull’s-eye. We think he was sick with this for a week or two before he went to the hospital.”

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She said it took four days to get the lab results from her father’s blood work, which confirmed the tick-borne disease. Six weeks later, he was gone.

“The poor man lived 87 years and was done in by a little tick and the complications that resulted from it,” she said. “He was so sick with it that he just didn’t come back.”

According to state Department of Health statistics by county, Suffolk accounts for 49 percent of the state’s babesiosis cases.

Eastern Long Island Hospital, Peconic Bay Medical Center and Southampton Hospital officials have confirmed an uptick this season in patients diagnosed with the disease, according to a previous Suffolk Times report.

Babesiosis is a curable illness spread by the blacklegged tick, otherwise known as the deer tick, said Daniel Gilrein, entomologist at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, in a recent interview.

The tick’s bite transfers pathogens that can trigger a severe anemia in humans, killing red and white blood cells and platelets in the blood — especially in patients who are missing a spleen and have a weakened immune system, said Dr. Gary Rosenbaum, an infectious disease physician with Peconic Bay Medical Center.

But Ms. Feeley-Manarel said that while the disease might be curable if caught early, the North Fork’s elderly population is particularly at risk because of their weakened immune systems.

“We wrote it off,” she said. “He’s old, he’s got arthritis, we thought he just had a virus. The furthest thing from our minds was something as deadly as babesiosis.”

While Ms. Feeley-Manarel said she finds deer to be beautiful animals, she now understands the role they played in her father’s death.

“It’s obvious there is a problem,” she said. “I see deer here every single day. I don’t want everybody to get their guns out, but maybe we could have a longer bow period and start a food bank or something like that.”

Southold’s estimated deer population is roughly 3,500 — or 65 deer per square mile — according to the Department of Environmental Conservation. To control tick-borne diseases like babesiosis, the Centers for Disease Control recommends limiting the population to 10 deer per square mile.

In an effort to combat tick-borne illnesses, county Legislator Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) has introduced a new measure to step up pressure on Suffolk County Vector Control, which is in charge of controlling the spread of insect-borne diseases.

The proposed law would require Vector Control to submit an annual plan of steps being taken to reduce the incidence of tick-borne illnesses — including active measures being taken, work that needs to be done and an analysis to determine the effectiveness of the program, according to a recent press release. The bill was approved in committee and is likely to be voted at on at next week’s meeting.

County Legislator Al Krupski has signed on as a co-sponsor of the bill, saying, “Lyme disease is an epidemic on the East End of Long Island. Most of us have been impacted in some way by tick-borne disease. Suffolk County needs to play an active role to control this growing health problem.”

Tests conducted after her father’s death, Ms. Feeley-Manarel said, revealed that he suffered not only from babesiosis but also Lyme disease — a better known tick-borne illness.

“The medical community really has to be very proactive with the elderly community,” she said. “It could be Lyme or something more deadly than Lyme. Lyme you can live with, the rest of them you may not be able to.”

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07/27/13 10:00am
07/27/2013 10:00 AM

DAN GILREIN COURTESY PHOTO | Deer ticks are behind a sudden surge in babesiosis cases on the East End.

Three East End hospitals have reported a spike in one of six tick-borne illnesses commonly seen on Long Island, hospital officials said.

Though Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are the best known, “this year we’ve seen a surge of babesiosis cases,” said Dr. Gary Rosenbaum, an infectious disease physician with Peconic Bay Medical Center.

Dr. Lawrence Schiff, director of emergency care at Eastern Long Island Hospital, and Deborah Maile, director of infection prevention at Southampton Hospital, also said they have seen an uptick in patients coming in with the disease.

Babesiosis is a curable illness spread by the blacklegged tick, otherwise known as the deer tick, said Daniel Gilrein, entomologist at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County.

The tick’s bite transfers pathogens that can trigger severe anemia in humans, killing red and white blood cells and platelets – especially in patients who are missing a spleen or have a weakened immune system, Dr. Rosenbaum said.

“[The initial symptoms] are the most severe of the six tick-borne diseases that we get here on Long Island,” Dr. Rosenbaum said.

Peconic Bay has treated about 13 patients for babesiosis since June, many of whom were landscapers and others who work outdoors, he said.

Four patients had been diagnosed with Lyme disease during that same period in the past month. Lyme disease, commonly known by the symptoms of a distinct bull’s eye rash, is also caused by the deer tick, Mr. Gilrein said.

Dr. Rosenbaum said hospital officials have also seen four cases of anaplasmosis, caused by deer tick; and one confirmed case of ehrlichiosis, caused by the lone star tick.

Southampton officials are currently working on getting lab results for about 50 patients with tick-borne illness symptoms, Ms. Maile said.

She has been working on putting together a data set comparing diagnoses year to year. In June the hospital reported 18 cases of babesiosis, up from 11 cases in June 2012. She said there has also been an increase in cases of Lyme.

Peconic Bay officials are urging patients to be on the lookout for symptoms.

“All of these illnesses are curable if caught early,” Dr. Rosenbaum said.

Common symptoms include high fever, severe headaches, dark urine, skin rashes and circular “bull’s-eye” rashes, he said. A person experiencing any of these symptoms should be checked out by a doctor as soon as possible, he said, advising that patients check themselves thoroughly for ticks – especially the scalp, groin areas, backside and armpits.

Like mosquitoes, ticks are attracted to carbon dioxide given off by humans and animals.

“A tick can detect your carbon dioxide from over a mile away and start coming towards you,” Dr. Rosenbaum said.

Mr. Gilrein said while he has yet to complete a tick population survey this season, he has received calls concerning an increase in lone star ticks in some areas.

The Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County research group has a diagnostic lab in Riverhead that will identify ticks for a small fee, Mr. Gilrein said. While the lab does not test for which pathogens the ticks are carrying, he said having a tick identified can still be helpful for physicians. To have a tick identified, contact the diagnostic lab at Cornell at 631-727-4126 or visit http://ccesuffolk.org/new-page-2-143/ for more information.

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