08/31/2017 | Ticks in New York City
Earlier this summer, New York City health officials issued a city-wide “health alert” warning residents of an increased risk of contracting tick-borne illnesses in the city. Hospitals all over NYC are on the lookout for tick-borne disease symptoms, and the city installed 21 “tick surveillance” stations to monitor and control tick population and spread.
The idea of a tick biting you on the subway probably sounds strange. Unfortunately, however, ticks can be a problem even in the biggest cities in the world. Incidents of the infamous tick-borne Lyme disease have nearly doubled in NYC over the past five years. With ticks on the rise, it’s more important that new yorkers know how to protect themselves from the bloodsuckers now than ever before. Here’s what you should know:
Why Are They Here?
Tick season starts in the summer, when the warm weather allows the bloodsuckers to move around more easily and when their prey spends more time outdoors. A couple different factors determine how bad a tick season will be: the mildness of last winter, and the size of the mouse population.
Unfortunately for us, last year’s mild winter and this year’s larger-than-average acorn production spell massive tick outbreak. A mild winter lets more ticks survive and reproduce to become active in the summer. A good year for acorns means mice--another food source for ticks--always have something to eat. Mice feed on the acorns, ticks feed on the mice, and nobody’s happy--except the ticks.
Where Do They Come From?
It’s easy to assume all the ticks in NYC originated upstate (figures). While it’s true that ticks have been a significant problem there this summer, plenty of ticks were born right here in the Big Apple, too. The American dog tick is particularly common in New York City. You might encounter them in grass, bushes, brush, or trees in parks or green spaces.
Ticks latch onto their prey and stay attached for 24 hours or more, so it’s also possible they will attach to pets or other people and hitchhike into the city or even into your home. Once inside, ticks hide in dark, enclosed spaces to wait and rest until they need to feed again. They also may hunt near areas that see a lot of foot traffic, like hallways, subways, or near dumpsters.
Why They’re a Problem
Ticks are a notorious transmitter of disease. Lyme disease, for instance, originates in the bloodstream of common mice and rats. When ticks feed on these rodents, they consume the Lyme-causing bacteria. When they feed on a human, they transfer that bacteria to the unfortunate victim. There is no vaccine for Lyme disease, and it can be a serious or even fatal disease if untreated.
Ticks also transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tick paralysis, and even the extremely serious Powassan virus. Attached ticks take over 24 hours to transmit a disease from previously transmitted blood to a human host, so if you find one, remove it immediately and thoroughly wash the site of the bite. If you think the tick has been attached to you for an extended period of time, consult a doctor.
What Can I Do?
Wear pants, socks, and bug spray when walking in the park. Keep your hair tied or covered when gardening or landscaping. Avoid walking in tall grass or shrubbery. Whenever you spend an extended amount of time outside, you should check for ticks when you get back inside. Ticks live on the ground, so check your ankles and legs especially carefully. Make sure you check your pet too!
Heat kills ticks, so if you’re worried a tick has latched onto your clothing or belongings, throw them in the dryer when you get home. 15 minutes of drying on a high heat setting should kill off any ticks. If you find a tick on your body, use a tweezers to remove it. Be careful; the tick’s mouthparts are likely lodged in your skin. Pull carefully to ensure you get all everything out completely. When you’re finished, wash the site of the bite thoroughly.
Ticks are gross and scary, but they’re not unknowable. Even the ticks weird enough to live in the big city are predictable. We know what they want and how they want to get it. All you have to do is make sure they don’t have the chance.
If you’re afraid your home has become an accidental boarding house for ticks, let us know right away. We’ll be able to identify why, drive the bloodsucking bummers out, and make sure they can’t get in again.