Photo: Adobe Stock

With COVID-19 cases reducing in numbers on Long Island and pandemic restrictions easing, an annual threat emerges as the weather gets warmer: tick-borne illnesses.

Ticks can be found almost anywhere on Long Island. They are common in tall grass, wooded areas and even places where you don’t expect, like golf courses. 

Most ticks emerge in April and May. It’s important to be aware of ticks and protect yourself against tick-borne illnesses around this time of the year, according to Dr Luis Marcos, an associate professor of medicine at Stony Brook Medicine and clinical researcher of tick-borne diseases in Suffolk County. 

To prevent ticks from attaching, Marcos recommends putting oil on your legs so ticks can’t attach as easily, or wearing long pants to prevent ticks from coming into contact with your skin.

Marcos said Long Island has two main types of ticks that infect humans: the Lone Star tick and the deer tick. The Lone Star tick is the most common of the two. However, the deer tick is more dangerous, since it is more likely to carry Lyme disease.

There are nine different tick-borne diseases on Long Island, but the most harmful is Lyme disease, Marcos said. An estimated 476,000 people get the illness each year across the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although only around 35,000 of those cases are reported.

Because of the emergence of ticks in May, the month is designated Lyme disease awareness month. Common symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, muscle ache and rashes. 

Marcos recommends that if you get bitten by a tick, identify which species it is. If it is a deer tick, and is fat and has drawn some of your blood, you should contact a doctor. People who have been bitten by a deer tick may need to tak antibiotics to fight against lyme disease.

Marcos also said the tick population is increasing because of warmer winters on Long Island. Ticks that usually die off may live through the winter and emerge hungry for blood and with the ability to spread more serious disease and bacteria, he said.

The abundance of ticks on Long Island brings Marcos and Stony Brook University’s infectious disease team the opportunity to study the illnesses. They are particularly interested in the long-term effects of Lyme disease. Although 95% of people with Lyme disease recover from their symptoms, others are plagued with fatigue, headaches, tiredness and other symptoms for months after they get the disease.

“We’re trying to figure out new bacteria and new viruses of the tick that may cause disease in humans, that may not kill people, but may cause symptoms that may be persistent for a long time,” Marcos said. “If you figure out that part, then you can discover new therapies to relieve the symptoms of people.

To learn more about how to prevent tick-borne disease, visit Stony Brook Southampton Hospital’s Regional Tick-Borne Disease Resource Center.

The survival of local journalism depends on your support.
We are a small family-owned operation. You rely on us to stay informed, and we depend on you to make our work possible. Just a few dollars can help us continue to bring this important service to our community.
Support RiverheadLOCAL today.

Avatar photo
Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: alek@riverheadlocal.com