October 23, 2021

On the lookout for Lyme disease

Todd R. McAdam/managing editor

A sign warning of Lyme disease hangs at the head of the Lime Hollow Nature Center’s Bog Spur trail on Gracie Road in Cortlandville. Despite an increase over the past seven years in the number of Lyme disease cases in Central New York, the Southern Tier and elsewhere in upstate New York, the state’s budget proposal eliminates funding for Lyme disease treatment and education.

Had Laurie Tebbe of Marathon seen the signs and warnings before taking a walk along the beach in Long Island 14 years ago, she would have been more cautious in preventing Lyme disease, she said.

“Had I known, I would have been more careful,” Tebbe said. “A lot of attention is spent on COVID and not enough money goes towards the state budget.”

Despite a federal report ranking New York third in the nation for the number of Lyme disease diagnoses, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget for research, prevention and treatment of the disease does not include any funding for the state Department of Health for tick-borne services.

In 2018, $1 million was budgeted by legislators for the efforts but in the following years, that dropped to $250,000 annually.

“With past state funding, the Integrated Pest Management program created the ‘Don’t Get Ticked’ campaign, which provided a significant amount of information about the species of ticks that are in New York, what to look out for and what people can do to protect themselves,” said Joellen Lampman, Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Integrated Pest Management support specialist.

Cortland County saw its first confirmed case of Lyme disease in 2001, with cases continuing to rise and by 2017, the county reported 46 cases, data from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show.

According to the latest CDC data, there have been 153 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in the county between 2000 and 2018. But, when considering cases that have gone unreported, the CDC assumes the numbers are closer to 1,500.

The species of ticks are increasing in New York and Integrated Pest Management has identified several new, and harmful, species. Although the program has its own funding to continue research, it won’t be able to do as much as it would with the state funding, Lampman said.

“We would love to be able to continue to monitor to determine where those (new) species are located,” Lampman said. “If we had funding, we could hire more people to do that.”

When the state started funding Lyme disease prevention and treatment in 2014, Tebbe noticed more signs went up in high-risk areas and more information was available.

Tebbe’s symptoms change daily and can include arthritic symptoms, migraines, nerve pain, burning and numbness in the hands, feet and face, stiffness and joint and muscle pain. She estimates she spends $20,000 a year on medical expenses.

“It’s disabling and the symptoms affect every organ in the body,” Tebbe said. “I want people to get outside but people need to take precautions — it can be a very serious illness.”

Lyme disease symptoms

  • Body and joint aches.
  • Fever and chills.
  • “Bull’s-eye” rash.
  • Fatigue.

Tips for prevention

  • Avoid lawns, gardens, brush and shrubs within 2 feet of the ground.
  • Insect repellent.
  • Protective clothing that covers skin.
  • Check clothes and exposed skin every two to three hours while outside.
  • Thoroughly check hair and exposed skin once inside.

More information

Go to dontgettickedny.org

— SOURCE: NYS Integrated Pest Management

Brian Leydet, assistant professor of environmental forestry and biology at SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry in Syracuse, said New York is the epicenter for Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. In fact, analysis the college has done on Lyme disease across the state shows declines in regions where tick-borne diseases were rampant while cases have soared in the North Country, central and western New York, and the Southern Tier.

“Ticks are spreading because of global climate change,” he said. “Ticks and their diseases are a significant public health threat and ultimately an environmental issue. The research at ESF helps us understand what types of landscapes are resilient to the spread of the tick or susceptible to the spread of the tick.”

Meanwhile, other dangerous tick-borne illnesses are popping up that further complicate prevention and treatment. For example, Anaplasmosis, another tick-borne illness, is on the rise in the Adirondacks and upstate New York.


The Times Union of Albany contributed to this report.