Tick presentation cautions North country residents on dangers of bites

Written by JOSH DAVIS.

JOSH DAVIS - Malone Telegram

BRUSHTON — Cases of Lyme disease in Franklin County have roughly quadrupled in the past 15 years, following an influx of deer tick populations in the north country and Northeast United States.

A forum discussing the rapidly increasing risk of tick-borne illness was held in Brushton Friday, offering information and perspectives from medical, environmental and academic fields.

 

Dr. Lee Ann Sporn from Paul Smith’s College led the discussion, citing the northern, flatter part of the county as a particularly at-risk “Lyme emergent area.” Deer ticks, also known as blacklegged ticks, are less common in higher elevation areas in the region.

The presentation was timely in that the spring and early summer are the most common time for tick bites, as they are in the small “nymph” stage, and are hard to notice until they have fed.

“June is probably the worst month,” said Sporn, who added that larger adult ticks are more likely to target deer than the poppy-seed-sized nymphs.

“It’s like finding a poppy seed in a hay stack,” she said of her field research.

Sporn asserted that prevention is key when dealing with tick bites, noting that many traditional methods hold true. Light colored clothing and the use of insect repellent are optimal in the avoidance of ticks.

Time should also be taken to check for ticks throughout the body following time outside. Lyme disease is typically transmitted at least 12 hours following a tick bite.

Jennifer Gallagher, a veterinarian and Brushton native was also present, discussing the risk and prevention of tick-borne illness in pets, particularly dogs.

Gallagher noted that dogs are seven times more likely to contract Lyme than humans, largely due to their proximity to the ground. The veterinarian stressed the need for routine testing, as many Lyme-positive dogs do not become visibly sick.

Tick-borne illness is especially prevalent in working and hunting dogs that spend a lot of time in wooded areas, and is rare in cats in the Northeast, according to Gallagher.

As is the case with humans, prevention is the best defense from ticks in pets. In addition to over-the-counter and prescription products, vaccines are available to prevent Lyme disease in dogs, though these will not treat an existing case of the disease.

Gallagher also stressed the need to use tick-specific products sold by veterinarians, noting that they are the safest and most effective option. “You often get what you pay for,” she added.

The removal of ticks from humans and pets was also discussed by multiple presenters, who agreed that pulling the tick straight out by the head with tweezers is best. Topical home remedies like Vaseline should be avoided, as an irritated tick is more likely to transmit Lyme sooner.

The evening concluded with discussion of natural predators of ticks, including chickens and opossums. Brushton Mayor Kevin Pentalow joked that he would soon institute a “chicken initiative” to rid the village of the arachnids.