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Lone star ticks at different stages of their life cycle, with recently hatched larvae at right. (Credit: Centers for Disease Control)

Lone star ticks at different stages of their life cycle, with recently hatched larvae at right. (Credit: Centers for Disease Control)

Find an area with a deer problem, and you’ll probably also find a tick problem. That holds especially true for the North Fork.

But how can Southold Town deal with tick-borne illnesses when managing the deer population has proven to be difficult and complicated?

Finding that answer is the goal of a new exploratory town tick committee now in the works.

This week, town officials started efforts to recruit qualified individuals for the committee, said Supervisor Scott Russell.

“What we’re proposing is almost like a working group,” he said. “We’re asking the committee to evaluate anything that has been implemented with regard to tick control.”

Suffolk County has its own countywide Tick Control Advisory Committee, but now Southold officials are hoping to form a more localized group.

In particular, Southold is so narrow and dense that it is difficult to meet certain tick-management regulations.

Mr. Russell said he recognizes “frustration” over the town’s previous attempts to control the local deer population — especially last year’s controversial deer cull.

“The more deer you have, the more ticks you have and the more tick-borne illness,” he said. “But obviously, since the deer issue is going to take some time … tick management is something we can start focusing on right away.”

Five to seven volunteers will comprise the anti-tick team, and the town wants individuals with specific qualifications, including a wildlife biologist and a public health expert.Members of the tick committee would serve on a set four-month timeframe, Mr. Russell said.

Mr. Russell hopes to have the team up and running in four to six weeks. The town would only pay for travel reimbursement for the committee members.

John Rasweiler, a Cutchogue resident and member of Suffolk County’s tick committee, said the area’s tick population is a major concern that must be addressed.

“I would call it a full-fledged public health crisis or emergency,” he said.

Blacklegged and lone-star ticks, which live on the bodies of the North Fork’s deer, can carry Lyme disease, babesiosis, anaplasmosis and other illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

These ticks are particularly dangerous because they are most likely to transmit disease in their nymph stage — just before they become adults. A ticks nymph can be as small as a poppy seed, according to the CDC’s website.

Mr. Rasweiler described several large-scale methods for addressing the tick explosion on the East End, including deer culls through hunting, spraying a tick-killing pesticide called permethrin and the “4-poster system” now being used on Shelter Island.

That system uses bins of corn to attract deer. While the deer feed, their necks and ears rub against paint rollers doused with permethrin, killing any ticks that may be attached.

Mr. Rasweiler, however, was unconvinced that 4-poster devices are the solution to Southold’s tick problems.

“These are very clever devices, and a number of years ago, I was one of the people that advocated for us to use them,” he said. “But then I began to educate myself on them, and there are a number of seriously problems with them.”

For one, each device can cost about $5,000 per year, he said. And since the devices attract so many deer, Mr. Rasweiler said the vegetation in the area could be completely stripped by grazing animals.

Mr. Russell said the committee would be careful to consider potential costs of any potential tick-management system, including 4-poster devices like those on Shelter Island.

“What would it cost to implement a similar project throughout Southold town?”  he said. “We need to evaluate every option not just on effectiveness, but also on whether we can afford it.”

But Mr. Rasweiler stressed that any efforts to lower tick infestation must go hand-in-hand with plan to deal with the deer population.

“Unless you treat 90 percent of the deer, you’re probably wasting your time and money,” he said.

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09/15/12 2:50pm
09/15/2012 2:50 PM

CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL PHOTO | Lone star ticks at different stages of their life cycle, with recently hatched larva at right.

Anecdotal evidence suggests there may be a surge in the population of lone star tick larvae in the region, including Shelter Island. People who walk through a cluster of these freshly hatched ticks won’t know it until they start to itch and find red welts all over themselves — and perhaps in the center of a few of those welts they’ll notice a dot so tiny it’s smaller than a period on this page.

Hello, lone star larvae.

The good news is that the itching and the red welts are an allergic reaction to the tick’s saliva, not a symptom of some mysterious and terrible systemic infection. The welts and itching will go away but long after your ticks are gone; sometimes it takes a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, an anti-itch cream helps.
Even better news, larval lone star ticks are not known to carry any tick-borne diseases.

Lately, stories have been circulating of people finding welts all over themselves. Often they never notice any tiny ticks, all of which may have dropped off by the time the welts appear. These folks may be told by doctors or pharmacists that they’ve been bitten by chiggers.

We don’t have chiggers here, according to Scott Campbell, a Shelter Island resident and entomologist who heads the Suffolk County Department of Health Services Arthropod Borne Disease Laboratory. Since he went to work for the county in 1995, he says he’s never found a chigger anywhere on Long Island and he’s been looking. Chiggers are found to the south and west, in warmer climates, he says.

Lone star larvae begin to hatch in July and are active through late summer and into October. Chiggers are active earlier in the spring and into the summer, especially after wet weather. They lay scattered eggs, 15 to 50 a day in the soil. Adult lone star females lay hundreds of eggs in clusters. “That’s why people are coming in with dozens of bites,” Dr. Campbell said.

What to do? Besides the anti-itch cream, put all affected clothing and bedding in a hot dryer for 15 or 20 minutes to kill any live ticks. The ticks on your body will all fall off after feeding. Those that fall off in your house will die from dessication so they are not a health threat. Dr. Campbell said using permethrin cream is not necessary although it is one of the protocols described on some web sites  for lone star infestations.

Take preventative measures, including treating clothing with a permethrin-based pesticide and using repellents on your skin. Lone stars can survive in drier, hotter environments than other ticks so it may be harder to avoid the places they might be. Keeping clear of heavy brush and leaves and long grass works pretty well for dog ticks and deer ticks but it seems to be no guarantee the lone stars won’t find you.

It may not make it any easier to know you’ve been bitten by lone star larvae and not chiggers. But it is good to know, isn’t it, all that itching doesn’t mean you’re still infested with bugs, whether ticks or chiggers or any other little horrors?

This editorial appeared in the September 6, 2012 Shelter Island Reporter.