November 30, 2021

As the weather warms, ticks emerge, including harmful new species

The weather is warming — spring is here and so are the ticks. And they’re carrying a slew of illnesses, old and new.

Blacklegged ticks and American dog ticks aren’t new to the greater Cortland area and surrounding areas and neither is Lyme disease. But the Asian Longhorned tick, an invasive species from East Asia, and the Lone Star tick, indigenous to the United States but found on Long Island, are getting closer.

“Ticks don’t follow the calendar like people want them to follow the calendar,” said Glenn Reisweber, executive director of Lime Hollow Nature Center in Cortlandville. “Anything above 35 degrees is tick season, they’re out running around now.”

Two years ago, two sightings of the Lone Star tick were reported at Lime Hollow. But it was likely a remote case, Reisweber said.

The Lone Star tick is the largest of the ticks and can be identified by a single yellow or white mark on its back, said Derek Green, public health sanitarian with the Cortland County Health Department.

The Lone Star tick carries a number of bacterial diseases, found in at least 10% of the tick population, such as Alpha-gal syndrome — which can cause a severe red meat allergy in humans that can lead to anaphylactic shock within an hour of consumption — and ehrlichiosis, a treatable bacterial infection that can cause flu-like symptoms, Green said.

“There have been, at the time, a dozen sightings, maybe less than that, in Cortland County,” Reisweber said.

LONE STAR IN NEW YORK

In the southern portion of New York, the Lone Star tick has displaced the deer tick as the concern, especially on Long Island.

“As of now, we are not overly concerned with it (in Cortland County),” Green said. “Typically, the sightings that do happen are because of migratory birds that fly over with a tick attached to them that does a blitz feed and happens to drop in our neck of the woods.”

However, surveillance remains important, Green added. The state Department of Health is collecting ticks based on species and location to notify county health departments of potential sightings.

Ticks are most commonly found in wooded areas with tall grass, brush and leaf litter, Reisweber said. Lime Hollow recommends people research and apply tick repellents.

But partner-assisted tick checks are the best way to prevent tick bites and transmission of diseases, he said.

BE QUICK WITH THE TICKS

“It’s so important to make sure you remove ticks as early as possible, keep checking yourself and remove them in a way that is not going to irritate the tick,” said Joellen Lampman, Cornell Cooperative Extension’s integrated pest management support specialist. “Use pointy tweezers, grab it right where it meets the skin and pull it out gently.”

When a tick is irritated, it salivates more and the more it salivates, the more bacteria it produces, which is most often always harmful to humans, Lampman said.

“These ticks might go nine months, at least, before feeding again,” Lampman said. “Bacteria lay dormant in the gut and when the blood hits the gut, the bacteria wake up and start to reproduce and move through the ticks body to the salivary glands.”

Their migration north into warming weather is an indication of climate change, Lampman said.


Research, services funding scant in budget plan

Gov. Andrew Cuomo did not include any funding in his latest budget proposal for the state Department of Health for research, prevention, treatment or tick-borne illnesses.

In 2018, legislators budgeted $1 million for the effort, but in the following years, that dropped to $250,000 annually before disappearing from the budget this year.

“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. By 2017, the county reported 46 cases, data from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows.

The county has seen 153 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in the county between 2000 and 2018, the CDC reports. But, when considering cases that have gone unreported, the CDC assumes the numbers are closer to 1,500.

Although Integrated Pest Management has its own funding to continue research and prevention, additional funding would allow the program to hire more researchers and staff, Lampman said.

“There’s about 1,000 ticks (species) worldwide but most of them aren’t going to impact people,” Lampman said. “We need to take all the steps we can to not get bit by ticks in the first place.”


LONGHORNED IN CORTLAND

The Asian longhorned tick, which can kill livestock, is also a concern.

“We just found out it’s actually in Cortland County,” Lampman said. “It’s a severe livestock pest — there were five cattle that died (in North Carolina) from Asia longhorned tick infestations because there were just thousands of them on each animal.”

They carry a cattle disease that is being spread through Virginia, but Lampman said Cornell Cooperative Extension hasn’t seen effects like that on local livestock, yet.

Humans are not their preferred host. Still, they can transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a bacterial infection that causes a rash.

“Most likely the American dog tick will pick it (Rocky Mountain spotted fever) up from its host and transmit it to us or our companion animals,” Lampman said. “If a female tick is able to get enough blood, it’s able to drop off and lay up to 2,000 eggs without a mate.”

The way the female is able to clone itself and reproduce is concerning as the population can grow rapidly and get out of hand quickly, Lampman said.

CHECK THE LIVESTOCK

Farmers should check their livestock thoroughly and properly identify the species, Lampman said, because the Asian longhorned ticks are commonly confused with the blacklegged tick — a generic brown.

Another concern with the Asian longhorned tick biting human hosts is the risk of paralysis.

“It starts with the toes and works its way up,” Lampman said. “It can reach the respiratory system and can be fatal — if someone recognizes it for what it is and finds the tick and removes it, the symptoms will start to go away almost right away.”

When Reisweber first moved to Cortland County in 2003, he considered it a safe spot from ticks.

“The first five to eight years, I didn’t have a tick on me,” he said. “In the last seven or eight years, it was like ‘where did these guys come from?’”

DEER POPULATION

Deer and white-footed deer mice are prone to carrying blacklegged ticks, which carry Lyme disease. Board members at Lime Hollow Nature Center have discussed deer population control, Reisweber said.

“Deer can carry hundreds to thousands of these things,” Reisweber said. “You’ll see the tick numbers plummet significantly and so will cases of Lyme disease.”

Reisweber said he’s seen the effectiveness of population control when Cornell University implemented its own program. At Lime Hollow, deer population control would also preserve the understory of the forest.

“The things we are planting aren’t surviving because of the overpopulation of deer,” he said.

The interesting thing, Green noted, is the difference between the way the Lone Star tick and the blacklegged tick hunt. The blacklegged ticks are questers — they migrate up a tall piece of grass and hook on to passers-by.

The Lone Star tick is an ambush predator — it will hunt out a warm blooded animal if it stays in one place for an extended period of time. The Lone Star tick is attracted to carbon dioxide and associates the smell with a potential blood feed.

“They are emerging right now, now that we are through the winter,” Green said. “Ticks like a really moist environment and we’ve got that in the spring.”

When things start to get hotter and warmer, the moisture decreases, Green said. And ticks don’t do well in dry weather.

“You still have to take the proper precautions but technically, I have seen the most instances of ticks in the fall and spring because the moisture content is perfect for them to be able to survive and be comfortable,” Green said.