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Ticks Remain a Concern on Long Island: Expert Advice and Latest Discoveries

Summer on Long Island: Ticks and Lyme Disease Warnings

Long Island, known for its sun, surf, and sand, has a growing concern in its warm summer months—ticks. These tiny yet voracious critters, capable of carrying various diseases, pose a threat to visitors of parks and beaches in the region. As the winters become increasingly warm, tick problems persist year-round. Experts are urging people to take precautions against ticks as they gather more knowledge about the illnesses they cause and develop new surveillance criteria.

Anna-Marie Wellins, a doctor of nursing practice at Stony Brook Medicine, emphasizes education and prevention as vital measures against ticks. Credit: Stony Brook Southampton Hospital

Tracking tick-borne diseases

Long Island has long been considered an epicenter for tick-related Lyme disease, making it essential to not only examine tick populations but also the pathogens they carry. Nassau and Suffolk counties have focused their efforts on testing ticks for diseases such as babesiosis, anaplasmosis, powassan virus disease, and a variant of Rocky Mountain spotted fever in addition to Lyme disease itself. With about 50% of adult ticks and 20% of nymphs carrying certain pathogens, understanding the disease-bearing tick population is of utmost importance.

Suffolk County’s tick surveillance

The Suffolk County Health Department periodically collects ticks from various locations. Recent tests conducted in 2023 revealed a concerning percentage of ticks carrying the Lyme disease-causing bacteria: 26% in Riverhead, 44% in Babylon, 50% in Smithtown, and an alarming 70% on Shelter Island.

The Tick Blitz in Nassau County

Nassau County does not conduct its own tick surveillance. However, the Tick Blitz—a citizen-science project conducted by the Northeast Regional Center for Excellence in Vector-Borne Diseases—recorded a majority of ticks collected in the central and northern parts of Nassau County, with the blacklegged tick being the most prevalent species.

Counting the increase in Lyme disease cases

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) modified the reporting criteria for Lyme disease, leading to a sharp increase in reported cases in 2022. The CDC study concluded that the rise was primarily due to the change in reporting methods rather than an actual increase in disease prevalence. Lyme disease estimates are now primarily based on positive lab results. However, relying solely on lab tests for diagnosis doesn’t always provide an accurate representation of a patient’s condition.

Dr. Andrew Handel, a pediatric infectious diseases expert at Stony...

Dr. Andrew Handel, an expert in pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, advocates for comprehensive diagnosis methods and emphasizes the need to focus on symptoms. Credit: Randee Daddona

Dr. Andrew Handel, a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, highlights the limitations of relying solely on positive lab results for Lyme disease diagnosis. Patients with a positive test result may carry the antibodies for years, leading to confusion and unnecessary treatment. Therefore, observing symptoms such as the characteristic bull’s-eye rash, fever, joint aches, fatigue, and brain fog are crucial in determining the need for further action.

Delayed diagnosis in Black patients

Recent research conducted by the Johns Hopkins Medicine Lyme Disease Research Center has revealed a delay in diagnosing Lyme disease among Black patients. This delay is primarily attributed to a lack of community and physician awareness as well as the limited representation of rashes on darker skin tones in medical resources and databases. Black individuals with Lyme disease often progress to advanced stages, experiencing severe symptoms such as debilitating fatigue and irregular heartbeat. Efforts are being made to address and rectify this inequality in diagnosis and treatment.

Other noteworthy ticks on Long Island

The presence of invasive Asian long-horned ticks, discovered in the U.S. in 2017, continues to spread on Long Island. While their ability to transmit Lyme disease is still being researched, these ticks have been found to carry the bacteria that causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever. With female ticks capable of reproducing without mating, their populations can rapidly grow when hosts, including deer, opossums, and raccoons, are available. Protection of pets and vigilant monitoring of their presence is key, and people are actively encouraged to range dogs and cats.

The Gulf Coast tick, which transmits a form of spotted fever, has also made its way to Long Island from the southeastern U.S. The consequences of their arrival are still being studied.

Preventing tick bites and transmission

  • Check yourself and children daily: Inspect skin folds, such as under the arms, behind the knees, inside the belly button, and around the waist.
  • Outdoor precautions: Pull socks up over pant legs, wear tuck-in shirts, and opt for light-colored clothing that aids in tick detection. Follow instructions when using insect repellent.
  • Shower and clothing care: Shower as soon as possible after being outdoors. Before washing, throw clothing in a hot dryer to eliminate ticks.
  • Protect pets: Speak to a veterinarian about appropriate tick prevention treatments for dogs and cats.

What to do if bitten by a tick

  • Remove the tick carefully: Use tweezers to firmly grasp the tick by its head and gently pull it out. Saving the tick for identification purposes can be helpful.
  • Disinfect the bite area: Use rubbing alcohol, soap, and water to clean the area thoroughly.
  • Monitor your health: Stay vigilant for any signs of a rash, fever, joint aches, fatigue, or swollen joints, and consult a doctor if any such symptoms develop.

Source: The Regional Tick-Borne Disease Resource Center at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital


Lisa joined the news website as a seasoned staff writer. With a rich background in journalism, notably covering politics, government, and a variety of topics, Lisa brings a wide range of expertise to her readers. She values accurate and informative reporting that leads to a better-informed community.

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