Hinchey, experts talk about tick-borne illnesses

DUTCHESS COUNTY —  Dutchess County is full of trees, flowers, greenery and an assortment of animals such as mice, deer, foxes, birds—and ticks. State Sen. Michelle Hinchey (D, NY-41) would like to see more done to control the tick population as well as providing more research into learning about ticks and tick-borne diseases.

On Thursday, May 18, Hinchey co-hosted the virtual information program “Let’s Talk About Ticks.” One of her co-hosts was Richard Ostfeld, Ph.D., disease ecologist with the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, which has been involved in tick and Lyme disease research for more than 30 years.

Ostfeld used charts to show how the tick problem has escalated over recent years; in 1996 there were fewer than 20,000 cases of Lyme disease recorded in the U.S.; in 2019, there were over 40,000 cases recorded. He feels that tick-borne diseases are underreported.

In two maps, Ostfeld showed the increase in the tick population and the disease. The first map, from 2001, showed a small amount of tick-borne disease across the U.S., with the only heavy concentration on the East Coast, and the Hudson Valley as the epicenter.

The same map, updated in 2017, showed a rise in the number of ticks and disease geographically spread across the country, but the same concentrated East Coast, with the Hudson Valley still the most heavily affected.

Grasses, trees and other greenery provide breeding grounds for ticks, while the wildlife act as hosts. When there is plenty to eat, the wildlife population increases.

Add to that later winters and earlier springs, and it’s easy to understand why ticks and disease are on the rise.

Kathy Nolan, M.D., senior research director for Catskill Mountainkeeper, talked about how tick-borne diseases impact an individual’s life. After stating that she was not giving medical advice, her first tip was that those need medical treatment should seek out a clinic that specializes in Lyme disease. She pointed out that the disease can take many forms.

Caught early and treated, Lyme disease may not have too serious an impact, but if not caught early, the consequences can be dire and lead to various symptoms including consistent bone and muscle pain, cognitive decline and even heart disease.

Nolan doesn’t agree with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s method of treatment, but rather prefers large doses of antibiotics over periods of time determined by the length of time the tick has been imbedded; the longer the tick has been attached, the higher the dose of antibiotics and the longer the duration of the medicine.

Nolan also recommends DNA testing for Lyme rather than other methods, and advises one to look into alternative treatments as well.

Information about what to wear, where to go, and the best way to keep safe around ticks was provided by John Thompson, director of the Catskill Regional Invasive Species Partnership (CRISP) with the Catskill Center, and Barbara Campbell, Master Gardener with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County.

Wear shoes or boots with tall socks and long pants, preferably with the bottoms of the pants tucked into the socks. Long-sleeved shirts are best.

Remember that you’ll find the most ticks in bushes and in longer grass, so when hiking, stay in the middle of the path and avoid vegetation. Ticks are everywhere, however, so whenever you’ve been outdoors, do a careful check when you get home.

Thompson advises taking clothes off, putting them in a plastic bag. Put them in a clothes dryer and run the dryer for about 10 minutes: The dry heat from will kill ticks.  Don’t wash the clothes first, as ticks thrive in warm water.

Look for ticks in and around the ears, inside the belly button, between the legs and behind the knees. Also check in and around the hair, under the arms, around the waist and in warm, dark areas.

There are products you can spray on your clothes; you can also send out clothing to be treated with repellent that lasts through many washings. Pre-treated clothing can be purchased. There are many treatments for pets, but the experts feel one should talk to their veterinarian about what to use for each pet.

With Hinchey’s forum and other agencies available to offer tips, you can enjoy the beauty, the sun and the greenery while keeping your family, your pets and yourself protected by following safety guidelines.

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