Don’t Let Ticks Ruin Your Summer Outdoor Fun

May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month: State Health Department Focuses on Prevention

(ALBANY, N.Y.) May 27, 2015 - The New York State Department of Health (DOH) today urged New Yorkers to take proper precautions in preventing the spread of tick-borne illnesses, now that warm weather has arrived.

"It is essential that New Yorkers of all ages understand the health risks associated with tick bites as they venture outside to enjoy the warm weather," said New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. "By following several simple precautions, people can protect themselves and their families."

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that spreads when an infected deer tick bites a person and remains attached for 36 hours or more. Ticks are typically active when the weather stays above freezing, usually from April to November. While this past winter was unusually harsh, the abundant and long-lasting snow cover likely provided insulation to allow ticks to survive the winter. Since reporting of Lyme disease to DOH began in 1986, New York State has averaged more than 5,500 new Lyme diseases cases each year.

In the majority of cases, an expanding rash resembling a bull's eye or solid patch will appear near the site of the bite. If an expanding rash with a diameter of more than two inches appears or flu-like symptoms occur over a 30-day period following a tick bite, New Yorkers should contact their health care provider immediately.

Tick bites in New York can transmit diseases other than Lyme disease as well. Some of these are less common such as babesiosis and anaplasmosis (averaging 255 and 268 cases annually since 2005, respectively) and others are rare, such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (averaging 15 cases annually since 2005) and Powassan Encephalitis (totalling19 cases since 2005). These diseases vary in their severity, but all can cause serious illness and even death, if untreated.

Lyme and other tick-borne diseases are preventable by taking simple precautions. Anyone expecting to spend time in a grassy or wooded area should:

  • Make sure shirts are tucked in and also tuck pants into socks to prevent ticks from accessing the skin.
  • Wear long sleeved shirts and pants, when practical.
  • Wear light colored clothing that will make it easier to spot and remove ticks.
  • Check for ticks every two to three hours while outdoors, and brush off any ticks before they attach.
  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks on your body.
  • Perform a full body check multiple times during the day and at the end of the day to ensure that no ticks are attached.

If a tick is found on the body, it is critical to remove it immediately, preferably with fine point tweezers, grasping the tick close to its attachment to the skin. When removing a tick, if its mouthparts break off and remain in the skin, do not be concerned. The mouthparts alone cannot transmit Lyme disease because the infective body of the tick is no longer attached. The mouthparts can be left alone. They will dry up and fall out by themselves in a few days or they can be removed as you would a splinter.

New Yorkers should also be aware of the risks that ticks pose to their pets. Dogs are very susceptible to tick bites and tick-borne diseases; more so than cats. Vaccines are not available for all the tick-borne diseases that dogs can get, and they don't keep dogs from bringing ticks into your home, making it very important to use a tick preventive product on dogs.

Tick bites on dogs may be hard to detect. Symptoms may not appear for seven to 21 days or longer after a tick bite, so dogs need to be closely monitored for changes in behavior or appetite if a tick bite is suspected. Other tips to reduce the chances that a tick will transmit disease to people or pets include:

  • Check pets for ticks daily, especially after they spend time outdoors. If a tick is found, remove it immediately.
  • Ask the veterinarian to conduct a tick check at each exam and discuss using tick preventives on your pet.
  • Note: Cats are extremely sensitive to a variety of chemicals. Do not apply any tick preventative to cats without first consulting a veterinarian.

Repellents also provide protection against tick and mosquito bites. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend choosing a repellent that contains DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus for use on skin. Clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents, can be treated with products containing permethrin. (Permethrin should not be used on skin.) Treated clothing or gear remains protected through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is also available and remains protected for up to 70 washings. For all repellents, follow the label directions and apply in small amounts, avoiding contact with the eyes, nose or mouth. Use only small amounts when applying repellents on children.

For more information on tick-borne diseases: