ALBANY — While springtime swarms of bloodthirsty black flies and mosquitoes are common in the cool, moist woods and bogs of the Adirondacks, the disease-carrying ticks that plague southern New York and New England are rare in the northern mountains.
That’s starting to change.
Scientific studies have documented that ticks that carry Lyme disease and other maladies have been expanding their range northward, westward and into higher elevations.
A new field study launched this spring will document outbreaks of ticks in the Adirondacks and create a baseline from which to study their spread. The data will not only provide the basis for scientific research, but it will also give residents and hikers information about taking precautions in certain areas and will alert health professionals to watch for tick-borne illnesses.
“Now is a critical time to assess where the ticks are in the North Country and what percentage of them might be carrying the bacteria that causes Lyme disease,” said Tim Sellati, a researcher at Trudeau Institute in Saranac Lake who is conducting the study along with scientists from Paul Smith’s College and the state Health Department.
“It’s a fantastic idea. It’s exactly what we need,” said Rick Ostfeld, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies in Dutchess County, which has the highest rate of Lyme disease in New York. “If you can catch ticks in the act of expanding into a new area, that’s a fantastic public health benefit.”
Ostfeld, who’s not connected with the Adirondack research, said such studies are rare because it’s hard to get financing. “Agencies don’t want to provide funding for surveillance in advance,” he said.
TASK FORCE REPORT
A state Senate task force released a report last week recommending state actions to fight Lyme disease, including studying tick populations, killing agents, bait vaccines for mice, public education and research into its links to other diseases and deaths. The task force report cited 462 cases reported through the first week of June in New York and a recent federal estimate of 300,000 new cases annually, with only a fraction actually reported.