'Ticks' the season: Parasites out in force

By HEATHER NELLIS

Recorder News Staff

A cold winter without many warm breaks is the likely culprit behind the recent heightened incidence of ticks.

Locals say the ticks have been out in full force, but Timothy McCabe, entomologist at the New York State Museum in Albany, said it's not an upswing in the tick population. Rather, he said, it's an affect of a late tick season.

McCabe explained the trend in terms of the blood-sucking parasites' life cycle. Adult ticks are the ones that feed on people, and they reach maturity in October. They're the same ones people are seeing now, he said.

"They're cold-hearted," McCabe said. "They do fine in climates worse than ours, they have a secure exoskeleton covered in armor that makes them waterproof."

That means they can stick around all winter long -- and they're hungry, McCabe said.

"Because we didn't have much in the way of tick activity, they haven't fed, they haven't mated, and they haven't started the next stage of their lives," McCabe said. "It's sort of a pent-up demand on part of the ticks, because, boom -- suddenly it's spring, which instead of being spread over two months, has been spread over two days. That's why people are noticing them more."

McCabe said ticks will likely be out through May because their season started late.

"Last year, spring conditions started early. We had nice weather in February, March, and all of April, so the ticks were spread out in a much longer season, but they also finished earlier. This year, we'll see ticks through May because they had such a late start."

Marjory LaBadia of the town of Mohawk said she walks her dog through fields nearby her home. She picked four ticks off her dog last week, including one in her dog's eyebrow.

LaBadia said the aforementioned field is laden with ticks, and noticed they live inside the tops of the dead blossoms on tall plant stalks.

"We try to avoid them when we're walking, but we can't miss them all," she said.

McCabe said ticks purposefully crawl on top of grass blades and other plants.

"They use their back set of legs to hold on, and the front set just dangles with their hands held out," McCabe said. "They're just waiting for something to brush by so they can grab onto it."

But ticks can be lurking anywhere, McCabe said, so it's incumbent to check for them after spending any time outdoors to prevent diseases like Lyme disease and babesiosis.

Montgomery County Public Health Supervising Nurse Cindy Christman said the department has "tick kits" available for pickup at its office, located at the county annex building, 20 Park St., Fonda.

It includes an identification card, magnifier and tweezers, she said.

From the emergency room of St. Mary's Healthcare on Friday, Physicians Assistant Joan Venerosa said she had two patients waiting as she spoke to have ticks removed.

"Any tick bite needs to be immediately addressed," she said. "And if it's there an unknown period of time, they need to be seen and given antibiotics."

Venerosa said it's important for people who have a tick bite to visit their doctor's office or urgent care to get the tick removed safely.

"Most people don't have the correct tools, so when they try to remove it at home, most often they don't get the whole tick, and then we have to dig for it," she said.

McCabe said it takes three to four days for a tick to fully engorge, but it only takes two days for the tick's bacteria to get transferred into its host. That's worsened if someone tries to remove a tick, but doesn't remove it all.

According to the Center for Disease Control, Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vectorborne illness in the U.S. In 2011, it was the sixth most common Nationally Notifiable disease. However, this disease does not occur nationwide, and is concentrated heavily in the Northeast and upper Midwest.

In Montgomery County, there were 30 cases of Lyme disease reported in 2011, according to most recent data from the state Department of Health's website. The data indicates the case load averaged in the mid-20s since 2008.