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.”

RELATED: Next generation of sportsmen needed to manage deer population

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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09/07/13 8:00am
09/07/2013 8:00 AM

JIM COLLIGAN FILE PHOTO  |  A town deer forum will be held Sept. 26.

The recent motorcycle accident in Peconic and scheduling of yet another town deer forum on Sept. 26 serve as reminders of our continuing failure to come to grips with a serious deer overpopulation problem.

Although our town government has made admirable efforts to increase culling of our deer population by recreational hunters, the harvest over the past five years has essentially remained flat, according to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation records. In 2012, more deer were taken out by motor vehicle collisions in the Town of Southold than by hunters.

In addition to being a safety menace on our roads, our superabundance of deer is responsible for a massive increase in the local tick population and a high frequency of tick-transmitted diseases in humans that constitutes nothing short of a public health crisis. According to New York State Health Department statistics for 2011 (the last reporting year), Suffolk County ranked No. 1 among counties for babesiosis, No. 1 for ehrlichiosis, tied for No. 2 for Lyme disease and No. 4 for anaplasmosis. Unfortunately, these dry statistics do not adequately convey the seriousness of the misery inflicted; these are not innocuous diseases. Some manifestations of Lyme disease can be difficult for many doctors to recognize and treat. In its chronic forms, Lyme disease can also cause a serious long-term decrease in quality of life.

The second most prevalent tick-borne disease in Suffolk, babesiosis, also provides great reason for concern. The incidence of babesiosis has been steadily increasing in the county over the past five years. Among patients exhibiting clinical symptoms, babesiosis has a significant mortality rate of about 5 percent. Among high risk groups (e.g., the elderly, premature infants, immune-compromised patients, those lacking spleens and patients receiving blood transfusions), the mortality rate is even higher, at 10 to 30 percent. Furthermore, one can contract babesiosis without ever walking through a tick-infested meadow.

Many people with babesiosis exhibit no symptoms, but can still pass it through blood transfusions. There currently is no approved screening test for the disease in blood donors or donated blood. According to the CDC and the FDA, babesiosis has now become the most frequently reported transfusion-transmitted parasite in the United States, and the number of cases resulting from transfusions has increased steadily since 1985.

Finally, it has been widely recognized by naturalists that the presence of too many deer is ruining our natural environment. In many parts of our town, overbrowsing by deer has stopped or severely compromised forest regeneration, wiped out valuable native plants, promoted the proliferation of noxious and invasive plants and destroyed critical habitat for other desirable animals.

What can be done about our overabundance of deer? First, it is important for more of the public to become aware of the scope of the problems that have been created. One way to do this is to attend one of the town’s periodic deer forums. Second, we as a community must press for meaningful change in deer management practices. Recent history does not suggest that further tweaking of our recreational hunting regulations will have the desired effect.

Limiting the reproductive capabilities of the animals is technically feasible, but unaffordable and prohibited by state law. Furthermore, that approach would not ameliorate the public health, safety and environmental problems that are currently at crisis levels. Any viable program must involve skilled, professional sharpshooters along with a continued recreational hunting program. It is scientifically indefensible to permit the unrestrained proliferation of large, wild herbivores in the absence of any natural predators. This is not the way nature is supposed to work.

Dr. John Rasweiler, a resident of Nassau Point, is a retired medical school professor. He is a Cornell-trained reproductive physiologist, who has spent most of his scientific career working with wildlife, including management issues. He serves on the Town of Southold deer management committee and the board of the North Fork Deer Management Alliance.

07/17/13 12:29pm
07/17/2013 12:29 PM

The State Department of Environmental Conservation has issued an air quality warning for all of Long Island until 11 p.m. today.

Summer heat can lead to the formation of ground‑level ozone – a major component of smog, according to the DEC.

Ground level ozone is forecasted to hit levels that can make it more difficult to breathe, cause coughing, aggravate diseases like asthma, emphysema or bronchitis, and make the lungs more susceptible to infection.

The New York State Department of Health has warned residents – particularly children, older adults, and people who are active outdoors to limit strenuous physical activity when pollutions levels are high.

A toll‑free Air Quality Hotline has been established by DEC to keep New Yorkers informed of the latest Air Quality situation. Call 1-800-535-1345 for information.

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