What to Know
- NY health officials say they will step up tick surveillance and outreach efforts amid a growing number of ticks and tick-borne diseases
- Virus-carrying ticks are also emerging in spots where they haven't been in years past, health officials say
- In Saratoga County, 22 tested positive for Powassan virus, which could cause life-threatening brain inflammation and less severe symptoms
The New York State Health Department says it will enhance and expands its surveillance and education efforts to safeguard New Yorkers from tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease and more rare, potentially deadly conditions.
The stepped-up efforts announced Tuesday come as the state confronts a growing number of ticks and tick-borne diseases, as well as ticks emerging in places where they haven't been as geographically prevalent in years past, officials say.
Health officials have checked out more than 100 sites statewide as part of the department's tick survey efforts this year. This summer, efforts in Saratoga County were expanded after authorities confirmed three human cases of Powassan virus, a rare viral disease that can cause symptoms ranging from mild flu-like issues to life-threatening encephalitis. Authorities say the disease is still extremely rare in New York, with just 26 confirmed cases since 2000. The three Saratoga County cases are the only confirmed cases of Powassan in New York this year.
As part of the expanded survey efforts in Saratoga County, health officials collected about 2,700 ticks for testing. The sample ticks were separated into pools. Five 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 once at a private home elsewhere in the county, officials said.
The test results marked the first time Powassan has been found in ticks in Saratoga County, the health department says. More surveillance and reevaluation of the positive test sites are planned for the fall.
In addition, the health department plans to post current and retrospective tick collection and testing results to Health Data NY, which is available to the public, work with the Department of Environmental Conservation to include tick and tick-borne disease information in hunter education and licensure programs, work with the State Education Department to implement new laws requiring related instructional materials for school districts and libraries and develop a comprehensive tick-borne disease surveillance and response plan.
The response plan, which will be similar to the plan in place for mosquito-borne diseases, is expected to be released next year.
Human cases of Powassan were reported in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, among other northeast states, back in 2015. At the time, a Connecticut researcher had said researchers identified ticks carrying the rare virus as part of a study published in 2012. Earlier this summer, officials in New York had warned of a possible surge in the tick population after a mild winter.
The virus is believed to have been first identified in 1958 in Powassan, Ontario, when a child contracted the disease and died.
Powassan isn't the only rare, potentially deadly tick-borne disease. Last week, a 55-year-old New Milford, Connecticut man died after contracting babesiosis from a tick bite. Babesiosis is a disease caused by a parasite that gives people flu-like symptoms. In severe cases, the disease can cause anemia that leads to organ failure. This week, a Connecticut family, this one in Thompson, said the tick-borne infection was passed along to their son while his mother was pregnant.
Authorities say the infection being passed on congenitally is very rare, with only four cases ever in the world. The disease can be treated with antibiotics.