Summer's here and the outdoors beckon.
But for many Long Islanders it isn't just the fear of COVID exposure that's on their minds. It's ticks. Ticks and tick-borne disease.
So, what should you know about ticks, where they live, what diseases they carry and how to prevent tick bites?
A panel of experts, hosted by Newsday associate editor Joye Brown, addressed those issues Thursday on the latest Newsday Live webinar, titled "Tick Borne Diseases: How to Stay Safe."
The experts — Dr. Rohit Gautam, primary care physician, Catholic Health, Patchogue; Dr. Luis Marcos, director for the Infectious Diseases Fellowship Program at Stony Brook Medicine; and Dr. Sunil Sood, professor at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine, Hofstra University / Northwell Health, and pediatric infectious disease specialist for Northwell Health — said there are three basic varieties of ticks found on Long Island: deer ticks, Lone Star ticks and dog ticks.
Each carry different diseases, some which can be deadly. Only the deer tick carries the disease many Long Islanders fear most: Lyme disease.
Deer ticks, Marcos said, carry five specific diseases — including babesiosis, anaplasmosis and Powassan virus — and about 70% percent carry Lyme. The good news, he said, is that only about 5% of those ticks will ever transmit Lyme, which can cause flu-like symptoms a few days to a month after being bitten.
Lone Star ticks, which have emerged in the tristate area in recent years, and dog ticks, which can be found across the U.S., carry other significant diseases.
Lone Star tick bites can transmit so-called meat allergies and, on rare occasions, the deadly Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Dog ticks can also transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia, which can lead to swollen lymph glands and skin ulcers.
Most common exposure areas include grassy areas, woodlands and parks.
"There is a lot of ticks out there," Marcos said. "And it's not just the East End of Long Island."
The North Shore, parks in Nassau and Suffolk, parks in Queens, in Brooklyn. "Even Central Park," he said. All can be habitats for ticks.
What can you do to protect yourself?
The three experts all agreed that staying on marked hiking trails instead of wandering through brush is a help. The Centers for Disease Control, as well as the experts, advise a variety of other measures: light-colored clothing tight around your extremities when possible; showering immediately after outdoor exposure, and checking for common areas ticks might hide — skin folds, the groin area, behind your knees. Deer ticks don't commonly go to your hairline, Marcos said. "They go low," he said.
Dog ticks and Lone Star ticks, however, might.
Sood recommended tick sprays and formulas, the best two being DEET-based repellents and permethrin.
If you find a tick, remove it using a tweezer near the head area and pull it away gently and straight out in order to minimize leaving any mouth parts in the skin.
The doctors all advised taking any removed tick and attaching it to a piece of clear tape so if you do have concerns you can bring it to a doctor for assessment.
While any tick bite can be of concern, Sood said he and many experts are far more concerned with mosquito-borne disease, such as encephalitis and West Nile.
"Use common sense measures, do the tick checks," Sood said, adding: "For the most part you do not have to worry about getting a tick-borne disease."