Risk of tick-borne illnesses remains high on Long Island

While we focus on beating this pandemic, doctors don't want us to lose sight of a long, persistent threat to our area: tick-borne illnesses. 

"These tick-borne illnesses are real and we see other tick-borne illnesses like babesiosis, which is similar to Lyme [disease], or ehrlichiosis, another similar to Lyme," Dr. Theodore Strange said. "They are out there in the community."

Ticks are making their presence known on Long Island, especially out east and along the north and south shores.

"We have seen an increased number of patients catching the disease, we've seen more patients getting hospitalized," Strange, the chair of medicine at Staten Island University Hospital, told FOX 5 NY. "50% or less of people who have been bitten know they have been bitten by a tick. Obviously, the thing we look for is what's called a bull's-eye lesion."

Lone star ticks are on the hunt in New York

But ticks aren't just in the woods. They can be in the grass in your backyard, according to Bennet Nemser, an epidemiologist overseeing the Cohen Lyme and Tickborne Disease Initiative at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Foundation. It's the largest private funder of Lyme and tick research in the country. It conducted a study with Columbia University that found that 56% of ticks on Long Island and in Connecticut actually carry Lyme disease.

closeup view of the underside of a longhorned tick

A ventral view of a female adult longhorned tick. (CDC Photo)

"More likely than not if you were bitten by a tick in Long Island and Connecticut, it has Lyme disease. So 10 to 20 years ago, you would look into the tick and maybe there was a small chance it had it," Nemser said. "Now it's really not the case. You can basically safely assume that it more likely has it than not."

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U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, is calling for $50 million in funding for the CDC and the Department of Defense for more Lyme and tick-borne illness research.

"Each year there are more than 476,000 cases of Lyme disease across the country," Gillibrand said. "That is double the number of cases reported 15 years ago."

Study: Eastern Suffolk County has the highest percentage of Lyme disease-carrying ticks

The senator also said there have been more than 90,000 reported cases of Lyme disease in New York state in the last two decades. 

Some reminders: wear pants and long sleeves in wooded areas, use bug repellent, and call a doctor immediately if you think you've been bitten by a tick.


More FOX 5 NY Coverage

You can watch special reports from the FOX 5 NY series Lyme and Reason.

Tick-Borne Illnesses

Here are links to more information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about some common tick-borne illnesses. 


These are tips from the CDC on ways to prevent tick bites.

  • Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, or 2-undecanone. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents with products containing 0.5% permethrin.
  • Treat dogs and cats for ticks as recommended by a veterinarian.
  • Check for ticks daily, especially under the arms, in and around the ears, inside the belly button, behind the knees, between the legs, around the waist, and on the hairline and scalp.
  • Shower soon after being outdoors.
  • Learn more about landscaping techniques that can help reduce blacklegged tick populations in the yard.

With FOX 5 NY Staff.