With Temperatures on the Rise and Increases in Tick Populations, SUNY Health Urges Prevention Against Tickborne Diseases

June 7, 2019

Routine Tips Can Help Safeguard Against Illness and Infections

SUNY Researchers Working to Develop Vaccines

SUNY Health Tick Expert Discusses Precautions:

Albany – Faced with an expected increase in tickborne illnesses, Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson today called on State University of New York medical experts to encourage all New Yorkers to be vigilant about ticks and to seek immediate medical care if they develop fever, fatigue, and aches after a tick bite. She also urged primary care providers to consider the possibility of Lyme disease in patients who present with flu-like symptoms during the warm weather months.

"Whether they’re gardening or hiking, or working on their lawns, New Yorkers spend more time outdoors in the summer, which significantly raises their risk for tickborne diseases such as Lyme," said SUNY Chancellor Johnson. "Ticks and the diseases they cause have become a serious public health threat, one that experts predict is going to get worse with the effects of climate change."

"Our greatest weapon in the fight against tickborne diseases such as Lyme, is prevention and vigilance," said Ricardo Azziz, MD, SUNY’s chief officer of academic health and hospital affairs. "Taking precautions when outside, removing ticks promptly, and administering treatment when infection is suspected are essential to preventing tick bites, Lyme disease, and any long-term effects of chronic disease."

The warnings come amid dire predictions by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that ticks are carrying a growing number of disease-causing germs, including a new bacterium found on Long Island called Borrelia miyamotoi reported in Suffolk County by the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University. The bacterium causes flu-like symptoms and a relapsing fever that is distinct from other tickborne diseases.

In addition, the geographic range for ticks has expanded, and new species have emerged. The Asian longhorned tick was found in the U.S. for the first time in 2017 and is now in 11 states, including New York. Though the tick has not been linked to serious illness in the U.S., it has caused severe sickness, even death, in Asia.  

Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the U.S. According to the CDC, the number of reported cases of Lyme disease has tripled since the 1990s. In addition, ticks are now carrying more organisms that may result in disease. Other tickborne diseases include Powassan virus, Ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis.

Researchers at SUNY hospitals are aggressively researching various facets of Lyme and tickborne diseases, as well as the ticks that carry the infections. For example:

  • Experts at Stony Brook University are working to identify brain pathways that result in chronic Lyme; researching whether ticks can be used to detect Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease; and studying Borrelia miyamotoi and babesiosis, a tickborne disease transmitted by parasites.
  • At the University at Buffalo, researchers are exploring the increase in Lyme arthritis in Western New York, and the biology, genetics and pathogenesis of Borrelia burgdorferi.
  • At SUNY Upstate Medical University, researchers are studying the effects of co-infection on the clinical outcome of Lyme disease and Powassan encephalitis; the impact of climate change on tickborne diseases in upstate New York; and the development of a vaccine for tickborne illnesses.

Without a vaccine, the best strategy for preventing tickborne diseases is to avoid ticks as much as possible, and to remove them immediately if found. Though ticks do not transmit Lyme to humans in the first 24 hours after a tick bite, other diseases can cause infection more quickly.

To prevent tick bites:

  • Apply insect repellents that contain 20-30% DEET or oil of lemon eucalyptus. For the safe use of insect repellents, visit: https://www.epa.gov/insect-repellents
  • Wear clothing that has been treated with 0.5% permethrin.
  • Avoid high grasses and brush; always walk in the middle of trails.
  • Shower within two hours of being outside.
  • Do a full-body scan for ticks after being outdoors. Important places to look include under the arms, in and around the ears, the back of the knees, groins, and in and around hair.
  • Check children, pets, and clothing and gear for ticks after being outdoors.
  • Remove any tick you find as soon as possible. If possible, bring the tick with you to a health care provider for a more accurate diagnosis. Not all ticks carry diseases.

Lyme disease typically produces flu-like symptoms such as fever, night sweats, chills, aches, and fatigue. Most patients experience a rash, and some people will develop a bull’s eye rash where the bite occurred. Others may develop facial paralysis, arthritis, meningitis or arrhythmias.

Treatment requires antibiotics. The prognosis varies widely, depending on how much time has passed since the bite occurred, how effective treatment is, and whether the patient has other illnesses or infections. It is important to follow up with a healthcare professional after a tick bite. 

About SUNY Health

SUNY Health encompasses four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, the state’s only college of optometry, and 25 other campuses dedicated to health professions and services. Together, SUNY Health graduates more than 10,000 health professionals every year, including one of every three medical school graduates, one of every three nursing graduates, and one of every five dentists in the state. SUNY Health serves more than 1.3 million patients a year and produces groundbreaking biomedical and health sciences research and innovation. We play a critical role in creating the future of healthcare and medicine in New York State, across the country, and around the world.

About the State University of New York
The State University of New York, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities. Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, a law school, the country’s oldest school of maritime, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. In total, SUNY serves about 1.4 million students amongst its entire portfolio of credit- and non-credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide are nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2022, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are more than three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunities, visit suny.edu.

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