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A Warm Winter: Weather's Impact on Our Pocket
Warm Winter's Impact on Disease Carrying Pests
SARATOGA SPRINGS – This past winter in Upstate New York was one for the record books. According to data from the National Weather Service, Albany was one of the fourteen cities in the United States that had its warmest winter to date. Upstate New York also broke its record for least amount of snow – just 10.3 inches, three feet below average.
While the unseasonably warm weather may have been great for getting outdoors, warm winters and early springs can have a serious impact on wildlife. What is concerning is that certain species that spread diseases to humans, such as ticks, flourish in these conditions.
The most recent New York ClimAID study, conducted by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to monitor the impacts of climate change, shows how rising temperatures are affecting ticks and other pests.
“Vector (disease-carrying) species, such as mosquitoes, ticks, midges (gnats), and other biting insects, respond dramatically to small changes in climate, which in turn alters the occurrence of diseases they carry,” read a quote from the NY ClimAID study. “For example, Lyme disease, erlichiosis, and other tick-borne diseases are spreading as temperatures increase, allowing ticks to move northward and increase in abundance.”
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) details the geographic location of different species of ticks across the United States (CDC.gov/ticks). While many in the southeast and on the west coast have to worry about ticks spreading diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, New York’s main tick-borne illness is Lyme disease.
“We haven’t seen anyone yet come in with a tick, but it’s right around the corner, so we’ve been warning people,” said Raveen Saluja M.D., an internal medicine practitioner at Saratoga Family Physicians at Saratoga Hospital. “During peak season, ticks are an everyday conversation in our office. But we’re already out in our shorts some days, so it’s already time to be careful.”
Dr. Saluja urges people to check themselves immediately after spending any time outdoors.
“You have got to check your body. Get naked, get a mirror, and look for ticks,” said Dr. Saluja. “Then call the doctor immediately if you find one.”
It’s vital to contact your doctor as soon as possible because time-sensitive measures can be taken to prevent Lyme disease. Within 72 hours after being infected, patients can get a one-time dose of the antibiotic Doxycycline that acts as a prophylaxis again Lyme. After that 72 hour window, Lyme disease must be treated with a regular, full-course of antibiotics.
According to Dr. Saluja, the most common identifier for Lyme disease is a bull’s-eye rash, which occurs in most, but not all cases. While a bull’s-eye rash is a sure sign of Lyme, other symptoms can include fever, muscle aches, and other flu-like symptoms. Lyme disease can also have long-term consequences called Post-Treatment Lyme Syndrome, which can cause chronic symptoms – even more of a reason to prevent ticks in the first place (see sidebar for more prevention tips.)
Dr. Saluja recommends using a repellent with 20-30 percent DEET, and reapplying it regularly. She also noted that some prefer more natural methods of tick repellent. Oils that contain rosemary, geranium, lemongrass, cedar or lavender are an excellent way of repelling ticks, and many natural oil recipes are available online.
For more information about ticks, the diseases they spread, and how to prevent them, visit cdc.gov/ticks. To learn more about how climate change is impacting wildlife, including harmful pests like ticks, and to read the full New York ClimAID study, visit dec.ny.gov under “Energy and Climate.”
- Avoid wooded and brushy areas with high grass and leaf litter.
- Use repellents that contain 20 to 30% DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) on exposed skin.
- Use products that contain Permethrin on clothing
- Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you.
- Tumble clothes in a dryer on high heat for an hour to kill remaining ticks.
- Check your pets for ticks daily, especially after they spend time outdoors.
- If you find a tick on your dog, remove it right away.
- Ask your veterinarian to conduct a tick check at each exam
- There are certain products that can kill and repel ticks on dogs. Talk to your veterinarian first about these options.
Protecting your Yard
- Pesticides can be used to prevent ticks on your property. Identify rules and regulations related to pesticide application on residential properties in your area first (Environmental Protection Agency).
- Remove leaf litter and clear tall grasses and brush around homes and at the edge of lawns.
- Mow the lawn frequently.
- Place a 3-ft wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between lawns and wooded areas to restrict tick migration into recreational areas, and always keep playground equipment, decks, and patios away from yard edges and trees.
How to Remove a Tick:
- Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don't twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
- After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
- Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers
Information provided by the Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov/ticks/avoid/index.html)