Dr. Scott Campbell, laboratory chief of arthropod-borne disease laboratory for...

Dr. Scott Campbell, laboratory chief of arthropod-borne disease laboratory for the Department of Health Services in Yaphank examines lone star ticks in the lab on May 29, 2020. Credit: Randee Daddona

Long Island has long been one of the nation’s hot spots for ticks and the diseases they carry, such as Lyme disease.

A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined the rise of another tick-borne disease, babesiosis, in recent years across parts of the northeast U.S. including New York. Researchers said this is the first comprehensive national surveillance assessment and multistate analysis of babesiosis over time.

Here is what you need to know about babesiosis and why Long Islanders should be on alert for ticks throughout the year, not just in the warmer months.

What is babesiosis?

The CDC describes babesiosis as a disease caused by microscopic parasites that infect red blood cells. The parasites are found in small mammals, such as white-footed mice, that ticks can feed on. People can contract the disease after being bitten by a blacklegged tick, also known as a deer tick.

Symptoms of babesiosis include fever, muscle and joint pain and headaches. Some people who are infected may have no symptoms or very mild symptoms, while others can become severely ill or even die. People who have compromised immune systems, serious health conditions and who are elderly are at the highest risk.

How common is babesiosis?

The new CDC report examined babesiosis cases between 2011 and 2019 when 16,456 cases were reported to the agency. New York had the largest number of cases with a total of 4,738 or about 526 cases every year, followed by Massachusetts with 4,136 and Connecticut with 2,200. Incidences of the disease are growing, according to the report. During that time period, cases went up almost 60% in New York and even higher in states like Vermont and Maine.

Do I have to worry about ticks when it's cold?

Experts on Long Island said residents should be concerned about ticks all year long  — especially with the warmer temperatures being recorded during the winter months. According to Brian Kelly of East End Tick & Mosquito Control in Southampton, ticks are active and will continue to search for a blood meal when the temperatures are above freezing. Female adult ticks lay their eggs underneath leaf litter. Even the youngest ticks in larval and nymphal stages are active on warmer winter days.

What can I do to protect myself and my family against ticks?

When you spend time outside, such as hiking in a wooded area, experts recommend you tuck in your shirts and pull socks up over pant legs to prevent ticks from climbing under clothing. Insect repellent can be used on clothing but people should read instructions carefully. The Regional Tick-Borne Disease Resource Center at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital suggests that people check for ticks under arms, in and around ears, behind knees and other places where they can be found. Wash and dry clothing on high heat after spending time outdoors. Shower as soon as possible.

What should I do if I find a tick on me?

Use a tweezer to remove the tick, and disinfect the bite area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water. If possible, save the tick, sealed in a small plastic bag or container so it can be identified. Monitor your health for several weeks after being bit by a tick and contact your doctor if you develop a rash, fever, aches, fatigue or swollen joints. The Tick-Borne Disease Resource Center has a help line at 631-726-TICK and offers free tick-removal kits that include tweezers, a magnifier, first-aid supplies and a Tick ID Card.

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