© 2024 WRVO Public Media
NPR News for Central New York
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

One tiny tick can ruin your summer. Here's how to avoid them

Adobe Stock

Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer, marks the return of backyard barbeques and swimming.

The warmer months also mean disease-carrying ticks are more active than ever.

"The threat is becoming worse every year," said Joellen Lampman, an environmental educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension.

Lampman observes that more and more people are aware of tickborne diseases compared to when she became an educator about ten years ago.

"If I was doing a presentation and asked people how many knew somebody who had Lyme disease, barely a hand went up, “she said. "Now, if I was to have that same conversation, every hand in the room would go up."

Lyme disease may be the one most people have heard of, but it's not the only disease spread by ticks. In New York, there are five different types of ticks that can make people sick.

Lonestar ticks have migrated here from the South. While they are prevalent on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley, some have also been spotted in Rochester. Lonestar ticks can transmit multiple diseases and may cause infected people to develop an allergy to red meat.

New York's newest arrival is the Gulf Coast tick, which traveled north in recent years during the warmer winters. This tick, along with the American dog tick, carries Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Most of the illnesses cause similar flu-like symptoms.

An effective way to keep ticks off your body is to wear clothing treated with the tick repellent permethrin. According to Lampman, this is underutilized.

"It's one of the best things you could do to protect yourself and I wish more people knew about it," she said."

There are also ways to make a landscape less inviting to ticks. They are drawn to humid places — Lampman recommends thinning out any brush in shaded areas so the wind and sunlight can pass through.

If you are in an area with deer or mice, you can assume ticks are there, too. Lampman advises avoiding plants that attract these animals, including invasive species like honeysuckle and Japanese Barberry.

"When we create our neighborhoods with our tulips and our vegetable gardens," she added, "we're just inviting the deer in. I know there's a thought that we've moved into the deer's habitat, and that's somewhat true, but it's more true that we're creating a great habitat for the deer."

Ticks find their hosts by detecting their breath and body odor. They cling to leaves and grass with their rear legs, waiting for a person or animal to pass by. If a host comes close enough, the tick uses its front legs to grab on.

A new Lyme disease vaccine is now in phase 3 clinical trials. When the shots become available, Lampman expects to be among the first in line to get one.

"But I'm still going to be wearing long pants and tucking them into my socks, wearing repellants and permethrin-treated clothing," she said, "because it's not going to protect me from all of the other diseases that one tick can spread."

Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has more information on its website.

Copyright 2024 WXXI News

Beth Adams joined WXXI as host of Morning Edition in 2012 after a more than two decade radio career. She was the longtime host of the WHAM Morning News in Rochester, where she was recognized for her work by the New York State Associated Press Broadcasters Association and the New York State Humane Society. Her career also took her from radio stations in Elmira, New York to Miami, Florida.