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Like ticks? Suffolk County seeks insect expert for advisory committee, research

A tick is shown in this undated photo.

A tick is shown in this undated photo. Credit: Newsday / Bill Davis

Help Wanted: An entomologist to serve as tick maven. Must have extensive experience sampling and monitoring tick populations. Also, diplomacy in dealing with various human stakeholders.

Those are the qualifications sought for the new position of tick entomologist for Suffolk County, which also calls for analysis, grant writing and top-notch interpersonal and communication skills.

"If you like ticks, and you like tick-borne diseases, Long Island is a good place to come, because we have them," said Dominick V. Ninivaggi, vector control division superintendent in the public works department.

An early order of business for the new "point person" for tick-related issues will be designing and executing a tick-monitoring plan, with an eye to getting a baseline as to species, numbers, locations and infection rates, he said.

That and working with the county's Tick Control Advisory Committee, formed last year to help develop a plan for controlling tick-borne disease, said Ninivaggi, who hopes to have the new person on board by late May or early June.

The committee and recruiting effort are two of several new initiatives to address the area's tick and related-disease issues. Last spring, the Tick-Borne Disease Resource Center was launched at Southampton Hospital, with public education, outreach events and an advisory phone line at 631-726-TICK.

And, TickClick, developed by Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk, is a just-launched phone app to help with identifying ticks, avoiding them and removing them if you're bitten.

State Health Department figures show 566 estimated cases of Lyme disease in Suffolk, 66 in Nassau for 2013, the most recent year for which data are available.

All together, that's down from 2012, which saw 689 estimated cases in Suffolk and 56 in Nassau. The illness is transmitted to humans through the bite of an infected blacklegged tick -- also known as a deer tick.

With symptoms including fever, headache, fatigue and skin rash, the infection can spread to joints, the heart and nervous system if left untreated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Another tick that "has become quite abundant" is the lone star, which can be "extremely annoying," Ninivaggi said. That one can transmit ehrlichiosis, with symptoms including fever, headache, fatigue and muscle aches, according to the CDC.

"The deer tick, I think, is taking a backseat" to the lone star, which is "very aggressive, and can detect you from further away," said Dr. George P. Dempsey, a family physician in East Hampton.

To say that nine out of 10 ticks he comes across in his practice are now lone stars "would be underestimating," said Dempsey, who serves on the new resource center's advisory panel.

As for that entomologist job opening, the recruitment ad also indicates the starting salary as $54,549, bumping up to around $60,000 after a year's probation period.

Ninivaggi said that between mosquito control and wetlands management work, he and a couple of colleagues have been searching literature, coordinating with other tick programs, "learning what we can."

But, "it's pretty clear that if we're serious about ticks, it really needs to be someone's full-time job."