Health Department Expands Tick Surveillance As New Yorkers Are Advised to Take Steps to Prevent Tick-borne Diseases

In 2016, there were 946 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in New York City — most of these cases were acquired outside of the city

Surveillance enhanced to monitor tick populations and prevalence of tick-borne diseases

June 26, 2017 — As the summer tick season begins, the Health Department is expanding tick surveillance and reminding New Yorkers about steps to prevent tick bites. Last month, the Department expanded tick surveillance efforts from seven to 21 sites citywide, with an additional 11 sites on Staten Island alone. The surveillance data will be used to monitor the densities and geographic distribution of ticks, as well as the prevalence of diseases transmitted by ticks. The data also help the Department with public education and tick-borne disease management. Last year, there were 946 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in New York City — an increase of five cases from 2015. Most patients in New York City become infected with Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases after traveling to surrounding areas, including Long Island and upstate New York. The Health Department has issued a Health Alert to health care providers to increase awareness of tick-related diseases and symptoms.

“While most tick-borne diseases are acquired outside of the city, we have seen an increase in the number of Lyme disease cases throughout the five boroughs,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett. “These infections are preventable with a few easy steps. Remember to wear repellent in addition to long sleeves and pants when visiting the woods or an area with tall grass. Thoroughly checking your skin for ticks and promptly removing them is the best way to protect yourself while still enjoying the outdoors.”

Tick bites can cause infectious diseases, including Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne infection in New York City. In 2016, there were 51 cases of Lyme disease in the Bronx, 322 in Brooklyn, 322 in Manhattan, 128 in Queens, and 123 in Staten Island. Symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headache, and a skin rash. If left untreated, infections can spread to the joints, heart and the nervous system. Lyme disease is transmitted by the bite of an infected blacklegged tick, but historically these species have rarely been found in New York City.

Tick surveillance in 2016 included, for the first time, testing ticks for Powassan virus, and a single positive tick was collected in the Bronx. No human cases of Powassan virus disease have been reported among New York City residents, however approximately one to three cases are reported annually in New York State.

“The expansion of tick surveillance is welcome news, and I thank Commissioner Bassett for responding to my concerns on this issue,” said Borough President James Oddo. “This surveillance is important, as the number of ticks collected on Staten Island that have tested positive for Lyme disease has grown exponentially in the past few years. With the number of cases of Lyme Disease and other tick-borne illnesses growing on the Island, we need to do everything we can to learn more about the issue and help educate the public about the danger of ticks.”

"As the weather warms up, and we spend more time enjoying the outdoors, it's extremely important that we inspect ourselves, our children, and our pets for ticks," said Assembly Member Nicole Malliotakis. "Lyme disease is a serious condition and as someone who was diagnosed with it, I know that early detection is key for a full recovery."

“We are blessed as a borough to have an abundance of parks and green space available in our local neighborhoods within walking distance, but with that same accessibility comes a responsibility to be mindful of the risk of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses," said Assembly Member Michael J. Cusick. "I’m grateful to the Health Department for once again bringing awareness of prevention techniques and treatment education to inform our neighbors in how better to protect themselves.”

“I’m happy to see this level of attention on tick-borne diseases this year, and I’d like to thank Borough President Oddo for his leadership on this issue and the Health Department for responding to our concerns here on Staten Island," said Council Member Joseph Borelli. "This data is vital to making informed policy decisions related to deer management and educating the public about tick bite prevention and the tick-related illnesses contracted by residents of New York City."

“As we kick off summer and spend more and more time outdoors, I remind my constituents to take precautions against tick bites to prevent tick-borne disease. This is an important concern of mine given the increased deer population on Staten Island,” said Council Member Deborah Rose. "My hope is that the Health Department's increased tick surveillance on Staten Island will help us with future disease management and public education efforts.”

Recommendations to prevent tick bites and tick-borne illnesses:

  • Check for ticks on your body and clothing after returning from wooded, brushy, or tall, grassy areas and remove any ticks you find on you, your child or your pet (see instructions below). Keep in mind that young ticks are very small (about the size of a poppy seed), so seek help to inspect not easily reachable areas. Be sure to look carefully in areas of the body where hair is present, since it may make it difficult to see the ticks. Adult ticks are about the size of an apple seed. Stay on cleared paths and hiking trails when walking in heavily wooded areas.
  • Wear light-colored clothing to allow you to better see ticks that crawl on your clothing.
  • Apply repellents containing DEET to prevent ticks from attaching. Use according to manufacturer's instructions.
  • Wear Permethrin-treated clothing.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and tuck your pant legs into your socks so that ticks cannot crawl up the inside of your pant legs.
  • Shower after being in an area with ticks, and promptly put clothes in a dryer on high heat to kill ticks.
  • Speak to your veterinarian about tick prevention products for your pet dogs and cats.
  • Remove leaf litter and debris to reduce the likelihood of ticks around the home.
  • If you get a rash or a fever, let the doctor know if you may have been exposed to ticks, even if you don't remember having a tick bite.

Ticks on people or pets should be removed promptly. Refer to the tick removal video found here. Use tweezers or fingers to grasp them as close to the skin surface as possible, and pull up on the tick with slow, even pressure. Wash the area of a tick bite thoroughly with soap and water after the tick is removed to help reduce the likelihood of infection. Avoid squeezing or crushing the abdomen area. Using matches, petroleum jelly or other home remedies do not work to remove ticks.

The Department has an activity book available for children called “All about Ticks: A Workbook for Kids and Their Parents.” The book offers useful information on ticks and tick bite prevention and can be ordered by calling 311. For additional tips to protect against tick-borne diseases, visit nyc.gov.

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