The state Department of Health today announced plans to enhance and expand its tick surveillance and education efforts to safeguard New Yorkers from tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease.
The stepped-up efforts come as the state confronts a growing number of ticks, tick-borne diseases, and an increase in the geographic distribution of ticks.
“New York has long been a national leader in tick collection and testing and through our actions to inform the public on how to best protect themselves, their children, and their pets from tick bites,” said Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. “The Department of Health’s expanded tick surveillance and education efforts will help ensure that New Yorkers have the information they need to better avoid tick borne disease.”
Earlier this summer, the department expanded tick collection efforts in Saratoga County after confirming three human cases of Powassan virus, a rare viral disease that can cause symptoms ranging from mild flu-like symptoms to life threatening encephalitis (inflammation of the brain).
Officials said the disease remains extremely rare in New York state with only 26 confirmed cases since 2000. The three cases in Saratoga County are the only confirmed cases of Powassan this year.
As part of the expanded collection efforts in Saratoga County, the department visited 30 unique locations and collected approximately 2,700 ticks for testing at the Wadsworth Center, officials said. Five positive pools, comprised of 22 ticks, tested positive for Powassan.
Two of the positive pools were found at the Saratoga Spa State Park, one at the 100 Acre Woods Trail in Malta, one at the Saratoga National Historical Park in Stillwater, and the final pool at a private residence elsewhere in the county. This is the first time that Powassan has been found in ticks in Saratoga County, the health department said.
This enhanced surveillance will continue in the fall with collection of adult ticks from many of these same sites, as well as collection and testing of blood from hunter-harvested deer for previous exposure to Powassan, officials said.
In order to expand awareness and outreach, and to better educate the public, the department will also take the following actions:
• Post current and retrospective tick collection and testing results to Health Data NY, so the data are available to the public.
The data have always been shared with local health departments and state park managers to aid in their education and prevention campaigns. Given the considerable interest in these data from providers, researchers and advocates, the department is working to make this data more readily available to the general public. The data is expected to be available on the website by the start of tick season in 2018.
• Collaborate with the Department of Environmental Conservation to include tick and tick-borne disease informational materials in hunter education and licensure programs.
These efforts include linking the Department’s tick-removal video and other online tick resources to various hunting licensure websites. The Department has already provided several thousand tick identification cards for in-person distribution at hunter education classes.
• Work with the State Education Department to implement new legislation requiring instructional materials for school districts and libraries to provide information about tick-borne disease.
In 2018, the department will release a tick-borne disease surveillance and response plan, similar to the plan in place for mosquito-borne diseases. This plan acts as a guidebook for local health departments, and discusses the current status of tick-borne diseases; the roles and responsibilities of the department and local health departments; and preventive strategies that can be used to address ticks at the local level.
For more information about Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases, visit www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/lyme/
For information about Powassan virus, visit: www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/powassan/fact_sheet.htm