The Heat Is Online

NY Officials Fear Lyme Disease Increase

Lyme ticks could be prevalent this summer

By MICHAEL HILL, Associated Press Writer, Newsday, April 25, 2000

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- The ticks that spread Lyme disease could be abundant this year in the wake of two mild winters.

''Personally, I expect a horrendous year,'' said David Weld, executive director of the American Lyme Disease Foundation in Westchester County. Weld said the deer ticks can more easily thrive after the mild winters.

The recent wet spell could also increase the number of surviving ticks, said state Health Department spokeswoman Claire Pospisil. It is difficult to predict if ticks will be more prevalent this summer, Pospisil said, but ''given the conditions, this could put people at a higher risk for Lyme disease.''

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria carried by the pin-sized ticks, which normally live on mice and deer. The disease usually causes a telltale bull's-eye rash and if left untreated can damage the heart and nervous system and cause arthritis.

While weather could help usher in a bumper crop of ticks this year, Weld said other factors could contribute.

He said the thriving deer population in New York and nearby states gives ticks a greater chance of finding a host. He added that tick populations tend to increase every second year due to the animal's life cycle. An expansion is due this year.

New York state accounts for about 30 percent of all Lyme disease cases reported nationally, Pospisil said. Preliminary 1999 figures show 4,260 cases reported statewide, down from 4,408 from the previous year.

Cases were reported throughout the state, but the Hudson Valley and Long Island were trouble spots. Dutchess County reported the most cases last year (1,385), followed by Suffolk County (847) and Westchester County (552).

State health officials list 186 reported cases so far this year.

Pospisil stressed people should take precautions if they plan to be outdoors -- particularly if they are walking through high grass. Precautions could include wearing light clothing, using insect repellents and tucking pant cuffs into socks.

People are also encouraged to check for the tiny ticks on their skin after spending time outside. A Lyme disease vaccine was approved by the Food and Drug Adminstration and has been on the market for more than a year.