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Warmer spring conditions could bring early cases of diseases from ticks, mosquitoes

Black-legged ticks are small — the nymphs can be as little as the head of a pin, making them tough to spot.
Scott Camazine
Science Source/Getty Images
Black-legged ticks are small — the nymphs can be as little as the head of a pin, making them tough to spot.

As spring weather arrives, scientists urge people to take preventive measures against dangerous tick and mosquito-borne diseases.

Babesiosis, which is a parasitic tick-borne disease, is increasing in prevalence in New York, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this month.

Dr. Andrew Handel, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, said anyone bitten by a tick should save the bug for identification.

“Once you have that tick, it’s a good idea to put it inside a Ziploc bag or put it inside a piece of clear tape,” he said. “Then you can bring it to your clinician and take a look at the tick and see if they can identify it and know what symptoms there are to look out for, for possible infections.”

Handel said many vector-borne diseases, including the West Nile Virus, which is primarily transmitted by mosquitoes, do not have a singular treatment and lack the proper studies. He said people with this virus often experience flu-like symptoms.

Meanwhile, Handel said Stony Brook Children’s Hospital will become a study site for a Lyme disease vaccine sometime late spring or early summer. If someone brings in a tick from outside, he said doctors can identify what kind of tick it is and follow through with the various steps for potential treatment.

“Enjoy the warm weather,” Handel said. “Enjoy spending time outside. It’s great for all of us. So we don’t want anybody to be scared when they do that. We want to make sure that they’re taking some strategies and tactics to avoid getting any of these infections.”

Over the next few months, Handel will be studying a pathogen called rickettsia amblyommatis, which can be found in lone-star ticks. Scientists are still learning about how this pathogen affects people, so his team will be looking at blood samples and antibody levels over two months to see how the disease behaves.

Handel recommends some preventive measures people should take, including wearing long-sleeves and long pants tucked into socks, using mosquito spray, and doing a tick check when coming back inside. He suggests people put their clothes in the dryer for 10 minutes on high heat to kill any ticks.

Clare Gehlich is a former news intern at WSHU.