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Ticks, Lyme disease remain threats on Long Island

It’s hard to tell whether tick populations are increasing, but one thing is for sure: Tick-borne illness remains a big issue on Long Island, even if declining case counts may appear to suggest otherwise, experts say.

Lyme disease is the most prevalent tick-borne illness on Long Island and also underestimated, according to Dr. Scott Campbell, entomologist and laboratory chief of the Arthropod-Borne Disease Laboratory at the Suffolk County Department of Health Services.

The number of reportable Lyme disease cases has decreased steadily since 2015, but Lyme disease cases continue to be underreported, experts say. // Graph by Megan Naftali/Long Island Advocate with numbers from the Suffolk County Department of Health Services

“There appears to be decreasing trends, but Lyme disease cases are notoriously underreported,” Campbell said. “The big drop in 2020 cases is most likely due to complex effects that Covid-19 had on individual behavior and public health and healthcare systems and resources.”

There are three tick species with a higher potential risk to cause human disease, including the American dog tick, lone star tick and black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick, according to Campbell.

“There are some [ticks] that will feed on animals, and they pick up the pathogen in that blood meal. For example, the black-legged tick picks up the bacterium that causes Lyme disease from the white-footed mouse,” Campbell said. “If it bites a human, it will transmit that bacterium to the human in that subsequent blood meal.”

Lone star ticks depend on deer, and as deer populations move west, the ticks seem to follow, according to Campbell.

“As the deer population in western Suffolk County continues to grow, the frequency of negative human-deer interactions will likely increase without population management,” said Bill Fonda, regional public participation specialist at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. “Overabundant deer populations can damage natural communities, increase the number of deer-vehicle collisions and cause an increased risk of contracting tick-borne diseases.”

If you are interested in learning more, continue reading the complete article on Ticks and the related diseases, written by Megan Naftali here.

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December 3, 2023

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