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Tick-borne illnesses on the rise, higher on East End than anywhere in Suffolk

There have been more cases of tick-borne diseases reported on the East End than anywhere else in Suffolk County in recent years, according to a new report released by the Suffolk County Department of Health Services

The report, released last week, examines the spread of a number of tick-borne diseases in Suffolk County, all with a variety of symptoms and all difficult to diagnose.

The East End townships have the most reported cases of tick-borne diseases than any of the other towns in Suffolk County, according to the report, which maps out cases of several tick-borne diseases between 2010 and 2014.

And though Lyme Disease was the most common tick-borne illness during that time period with 1,304 cases reported county-wide, other less commonly known tick-borne diseases caused almost the same number of cases during that time period.

Tick-borne disease cases by zip code

There are four other diseases transmitted by ticks in Suffolk County that caused 1,225 cases total between 2010 and 2014. They display similar symptoms, including fever, rash, nausea and headaches.

Some patients display no symptoms; others display symptoms but receive negative laboratory results. All are difficult to diagnose and can in some cases be life-threatning.

Babesiosis, which is spread by deer ticks, is the second most common tick-borne disease in Suffolk County after Lyme Disease. It caused 859 cases between 2010 and 2014.

Though cases of Lyme Disease have decreased dramatically over the past two decades – there were 1,775 cases reported in the year of 1994 alone, compared to 231 in 2014 – cases of babesiosis have increased by nearly 900 percent in that same time period. Only 19 cases were reported in 1995, compared to 197 cases reported in 2014.

Two other tick-borne diseases, anaplasmosis and ehrlichiosis, caused an additional 331 cases from 2010 to 2014. Instances of these illnesses have grown rapidly during those five years, from 32 cases in 2010 to 114 in 2014.

The fourth tick-borne disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, only caused 35 cases between 2010 and 2014. It is transmitted by the American dog tick, and children are most commonly affected.

Though these tick-borne diseases combined caused nearly as many cases as Lyme Disease in the past several years, the report calls for increased awareness of all tick-borne diseases, not just Lyme.

That goes not just for the public but for the medical community as well, according to the report’s recommendations. The report suggests that doctors should treat patients based off of clinical diagnoses, regardless of diagnostic test results, since tests sometimes fail to detect these diseases.

The report also calls for more research to improve testing for tick-borne diseases.

Here are some tips from the New York State Department of Health to prevent tick-borne illnesses when spending time outdoors:

  • Wear light-colored clothing with a tight weave to spot ticks easily.
  • Wear enclosed shoes, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Tuck pant legs into socks or boots and shirt into pants.
  • Check clothes and any exposed skin frequently for ticks while outdoors.
  • Consider using insect repellent.
  • Stay on cleared, well-traveled trails. Walk in the center of trails. Avoid dense woods and bushy areas.
  • Avoid sitting directly on the ground or on stone walls.
  • Keep long hair tied back, especially when gardening.
  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after going indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that may be on you.
  • Do a final, full-body tick check at the end of the day (also check children and pets), and remove ticks promptly.

Suffolk County Tick and Vector Borne Diseases – Final Report

Katie Blasl
Katie, winner of the 2016 James Murphy Cub Reporter of the Year award from the L.I. Press Club, is a reporter, editor and web developer for the LOCAL news websites. A Riverhead native, she is a 2014 graduate of Stony Brook University. Email Katie