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Suffolk outlines tick awareness program targeting school-age children

Dr. Scott Campbell, chief of the Suffolk Department

Dr. Scott Campbell, chief of the Suffolk Department of Health's Arthropod Disease Laboratory in Yaphank, is shown with Lone Star, deer and dog ticks on Monday. Campbell is studying ticks collected in Suffolk County for tick-borne pathogens. Photo Credit: Chris Ware

No insect on Long Island causes as much human misery as ticks, and to help residents prevent bites this summer — peak season for the bloodsucking parasites — Suffolk County health and legislative officials are rolling out a sweeping public health effort.

The campaign arrives as the first evidence has emerged of a rare but extremely serious tick-related pathogen — Powassan virus — which has been found by entomologists in tests of Suffolk ticks. The virus is said to be present at a very low level. There have been no cases of Powassan infection in Suffolk residents, health experts said.

A New Jersey man died in May of a tick-related viral illness, which state health authorities in June confirmed as Powasan, which causes neurological damage.

County Executive Steve Bellone has outlined an ambitious campaign targeting school-age children in summer camps and other outdoor programs. Outreach to adults will occur throughout the summer at more than 20 libraries countywide.

In addition, Bellone announced the expansion of SuffolkSHARE, a public health partnership comprised of towns and municipalities in Suffolk that share costs and resources in the ongoing battle against ticks.

“This shared services initiative is another example of how local governments can leverage their resources to address a regional public health issue,” Bellone said in a statement.

The program is introducing a 311 phone line aimed at providing up-to-date information to callers on tick avoidance, protection and tips on how to respond to bites. The service will serve as a hub for tick-related information. Data collected about tick activity from the 311 line will be shared with local governments. 

Dr. Scott Campbell, chief of the Suffolk Department of Health’s Arthropod Disease Laboratory in Yaphank, is leading one-hour educational forums that will be held throughout the summer. Public libraries, as it turns out, have proved to be ideal settings to educate people about ticks, he said.

"I think the patrons are interested in learning about this because it's a topic that is a real part of their lives,” Campbell said.

Suffolk is disproportionately affected by ticks, which have been expanding their range throughout the region for decades. The bugs are carriers of numerous types of pathogens that include Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that cause Lyme disease.

Within the last year, a new tick known as the Asian longhorned has emerged on the Island, but is not yet known to be a carrier of a pathogen, Campbell said.

The most common ticks in Suffolk include Ixodes scapularis, also known as the blacklegged or deer tick, and the Lone Star, a tick noted for a conspicuous white spot on its back.

A newly emerging tick-related condition that has affected hundreds of residents, particularly on the East End, is an allergy to red meat. The allergy is known as alpha-gal reaction, a severe response to alpha-galactose, a sugar in tick saliva.

The sugar is present because ticks have bitten mammals that naturally have the sugar. Most mammals, other than humans, have alpha-galactose in their tissues and bloodstream. Humans are allergic to it. The allergy is a newly emerging medical condition caused by tick bites.

"The good news is that the allergy is not permanent," Campbell said, noting that avoidance of red meat — pork, beef, lamb and venison — helps cause severe reactions to subside over time.

Suffolk County health officials have escalated their war on ticks because of the relatively high number of tick-borne infections that are reported among residents annually. The county has the highest rate of Lyme disease nationwide, state and federal data show.

On average, 500 to 700 cases of Lyme disease are reported in Suffolk annually. In 2017, the most recent year for complete statistics, 523 people were treated for Lyme in Suffolk compared with 128 the same year in Nassau.

State health officials said the actual number of people affected by Lyme and other tick-transmitted diseases is probably substantially higher because people with mild symptoms do not seek medical attention. Their cases, therefore, go undocumented.

Experts have attributed the abundance of ticks in Suffolk to its deeply wooded and brushy terrain. Campbell noted that other tick-transmitted diseases include anaplasmosis, which is caused by a bacterium; Rocky Mountain spotted fever, another type of bacterial infection; ehrlichiosis, a bacterial disease that causes flu-like symptoms, and babesiosis, a parasitic condition caused by a malarial-like protozoan.

New to Long Island has been the detection of Powassan virus, said Campblell, who noted that it is possible for a single tick to carry multiple pathogens.

Suffolk Health Commissioner Dr. James Tomarken said for residents who can’t attend a tick information session in person, there are county and state Health Department materials available online.

“To reduce the risk of tick-borne diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention promotes public education,” Tomarken said.

“In addition to our seasonal outreach, the Tick Bite Prevention Education Campaign includes a Tick-Borne Disease newsletter and PowerPoint slide presentation in both English and Spanish, all of which can be downloaded from our website and distributed or used for educational purposes.”

SUFFOLK COUNTY TICK TALKS

Amityville Public Library

July 17, noon-3 p.m.

19 John St., Amityville

631-264-0567

Cold Spring Harbor Library

July 18, 7-8:30 p.m.

95 Harbor Rd., Cold Spring Harbor

631-692-6820

Comsewogue Public Library

Date and time to be determined

170 Terryville Rd., Port Jefferson Station

631-928-1212

Connetquot Public Library

July 22, 1-4 p.m.

760 Ocean Ave., Bohemia

631-567-5079

Copiague Memorial Library

July 10, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.

50 Deauville Blvd., Copiague

631-691-1111

Cutchogue New Suffolk Free Library

July 23, 6:30-8 p.m.

27550 Main Rd., Cutchogue

631-734-6360

East Islip Public Library

July 16, 7-8:30 p.m.

381 E. Main St., East Islip

631-581-9200

East Northport Public Library

Aug. 7, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

185 Larkfield Rd., East Northport

631-261-2313

Hampton Bays Public Library

July 11, 7-8:30 p.m.

52 Ponquogue Ave., Hampton Bays

631-728-6241

Huntington Public Library-Main Branch

July 11, 10 a.m.-noon

338 Main St., Huntington

631-427-5165

Huntington Public Library-Station Branch

July 18, 10 a.m.-noon

1335 New York Ave., Huntington

631-421-5053

Islip Public Library

Aug. 5, 1-3 p.m.

Sept. 26, 7-8:30 p.m.

71 Monell Ave., Islip

631-581-5933

John Jermain Memorial Library

Sept. 9, 5:30-7 p.m.

201 Main St., Sag Harbor

631-725-0049

Northport-East Northport Library

Aug. 6, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

151 Laurel Ave., Northport

631-261-6930

Riverhead Free Library

July 15, 6:30-8 p.m.

330 Court St., Riverhead

631-727-3228

Southold Free Library

At Southold Presbyterian Church

Aug. 1, 7-8:30 p.m.

53705 Main Rd., Southold

631-765-2077

Patchogue Medford Library

Date and time to be determined

54-60 E. Main St., Patchogue

631-654-4700

Port Jefferson Village

Date and time to be determined

100 Thompson St., Port Jefferson

631-473-0022

West Babylon Public Library

Aug. 19, 7-8:30 p.m.

211 Rte. 109, West Babylon

631-669-5445

Westhampton Free Library

July 12, 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

July 26, 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m.

7 Library Ave., Westhampton Beach

631-288-3335

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