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Tick testing program reopens amid long, above-average tick season

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO News File Photo
Upstate Microbiology and Immunology professor Dr. Saravanan Thangamani in 2019.

A long and above-average tick season is underway, according to experts with Upstate Medical University’s Citizen Science Tick Testing Program. Scientists testing ticks for Lyme disease and other bacterial illnesses, are reopening the free program that’s already busy.

Program Chief Saravanan Thangamani said a warmer than usual winter opened the way for a large tick population, but it’s been exacerbated by the pandemic shutdown. He said his program received more than 300 ticks for testing after Memorial Day weekend, alone.

"Just a confluence of events, like warm weather, we have been indoors for like three months,” Thangamani said. “And suddenly, we get great weather and ready to go out. I think it’s a combination of events that will expose us to the ticks.”

The program has been testing ticks for about a year now. So far, about one in three sent in are positive for Lyme disease or other tick-borne illnesses. And that number will probably go up.

"Based on anecdotal evidence from my colleagues who are doing similar work in this field, slowly they are seeing an increase in the number of Lyme disease positive ticks,” Thangamani said.

Thanamani’s lab has developed a website to speed up testing, and said anyone in New York State can find directions there on how to submit a tick for testing. Thangamani emphasized the best way to avoid ticks is to use insect repellants, and his website has advice on tick proofing a yard.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.