Tick-borne diseases likely to worsen amid warming temperatures
By Chris Mellides
As winters on Long Island become milder due to climate change, the existing tick problem on Long Island will likely intensify.
Already, municipalities along the North Shore have engaged the public to discuss the dangers of ticks and consider possible remedies.
During a Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees meeting July 5, one concerned resident said, “Another child just got bit by a lone star tick and she can’t eat meat for the rest of her life.”
The meat allergy in question is Alpha-gal syndrome. AGS is a tick-borne disease commonly transmitted by lone star ticks, which are commonly carried by deer, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The instances of the prevalent Lyme disease have nearly doubled in the years 1991-2018, based on findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the climate becomes warmer, the size of tick populations and the spread of tick-borne diseases are projected to increase.
Village trustee Rebecca Kassay, whose background is in environmental community outreach, is well aware of the problem that these pests pose to the larger community. She considers recent public interest in tick activity to be worth the board’s attention.
“As time goes on and as climate change is affecting our area, one of the effects is these more mild winters,” Kassay said. “When there’s not a deep freeze for a prolonged period of time, the ticks don’t have that die-off like they used to and, as that happens, we’re seeing a steady increase throughout Long Island and the Northeast of tick populations.”
Wooded areas and athletic fields are more prone to being havens for these external parasites that are carried by wild animals like mice and deer and typically affect mammals, though other organisms are also fair game to these blood-feeding, eight-legged insects.
“I’m going to be looking into messaging, making sure that there’s accurate information that gets out to parents,” Kassay said, adding, “What are ticks? What are the dangers of [them]? And how important it is to regularly check for ticks both on their children and themselves?”
Barbara Sakovich, Port Jeff clerk, shared that while the village does not spray for ticks, private homeowners are permitted to spray their own properties.
Referring to the July 5 meeting, Sakovich said in a statement, “Deputy Mayor Snaden, as well as an attendee in the audience, discussed tick tubes and that they can be somewhat effective to manage the tick problem in the mice population.” The village clerk added, “A lint roller can be effective in removing ticks from clothing after being outside.”
The New York State Department of Health lists several diseases known to be carried by ticks. However, the severity of symptoms has raised a number of eyebrows. Lyme disease is the most common but anaplasmosis, rickettsiosis, ehrlichiosis and tularemia are also contracted via bioactive molecules in tick saliva.
Tick bites affect parents and children alike, and the Port Jefferson Village website recommends that afflicted residents should “call your physician as soon as possible so appropriate preventative treatment can be given.”
“There’s a vigilance and an awareness that needs to be spread and hopefully our community will not be learning about these things through personal experience,” Kassay said. “Rather, [we need] neighbors talking to neighbors and parents talking to parents and sharing this information so that through information we can prevent other children from suffering [from AGS].”