Help Wanted on Long Island: Tick Expert

For the first time, Suffolk County wants to hire a fulltime entomologist to study the apparently growing tick problem in its suburban parks, wooded areas and residential neighborhoods.

The job comes with one big requirement.

"You need to like ticks. You need to find them interesting," said Dominick Ninivaggi, Suffolk's vector control superintendent, who's leading the search to fill the $54,000 a year job.

Hiring a tick expert became a priority after county officials saw an increased number of public complaints about the blood-sucking, disease-carrying critters. Despite that, Ninivaggi said there is no scientific evidence on how bad the problem is.

"We need to know how many ticks are out there, where they are and what we can realistically do about them," Ninivaggi said.

He hopes to have his new expert in place by summer.

Lyme disease victim Ken Cavanaugh of Coram welcomes the new focus on ticks.

"You just feel horrible," Cavanaugh said of the disease spread by a deer tick. "Like you can't even move sometimes."

Infectious disease expert Dr. Susan Donelan of Stony Brook University Hospital sees tick-borne illnesses increase this time of year as ticks begin their assault. And not even the cold, snowy winter has slowed the bugs.

"The ticks hide in piles of leaves and the snow actually provides insulation until the ticks can head out for their first feeding in spring," Donelan said.

She blames the tick infestation on the large population of deer, birds and other four legged creatures roaming the suburbs.

Ticks feed and breed on many of those creatures.

Even social media has taken notice of the tick problem. A new effort called the Lyme Disease Challenge is trying to raise awareness on Facebook. Modeled after they ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, the Lyme Challenge asks participants to take a bite of a lime and post a "sour-faced selfie" to raise awareness about Lyme disease and the need to take precautions to prevent a deer tick bite while outdoors.

Dominick Ninivaggi hopes his new tick expert will also help in the fight.

"He certainly will have a lot of ticks to study," Ninivaggi said.

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