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How You Can Prepare For This Spring’s Tick Outbreak


Due to this past mild winter, experts are predicting one of the worst tick seasons ever. Dr. Luis Marcos, Director of the Adult Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Center at Stony Brook Medicine, and Dr. Saul Hymes, Director of the Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Center at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, offer advice on how to protect yourself and your children from tick-borne illnesses.

Adult female deer tick

What are tick-borne illnesses?
Many people have heard about Lyme disease, a bacterial infection transmitted by the bite of the Ixodes scapularis tick. In acute infections, it can cause headaches, fevers, rash and muscle aches. More severe cases can progress to Bell’s Palsy (facial paralysis) or meningitis. Untreated, it can lead to heart problems, arthritis and even long-term neurologic and/or rheumatologic conditions. Other infectious illnesses transmitted by ticks locally include Babesiosis, Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia, Powassan Virus, among others. Also, an increase in cases of alpha-gal meat allergy related to tick bites has been recently noted.

Is Lyme disease dangerous?
Lyme disease is a growing problem for Suffolk County, with thousands of cases a year. Because this past winter was mild, it’s expected that there will be more Lyme disease carrying ticks this year. When Lyme disease goes undiagnosed, especially in children, there can be serious complications. However, if treatment is started early, it is often extremely effective.

Are some tick-borne diseases worse than others?
Different tick-borne illnesses have different symptoms. Recently Powassan Virus (POW) has been in the news because it was reported that New York State had the second-highest number of cases in the U.S. While symptoms of POW are usually severe, it’s important to keep in mind that it is also extremely rare.

What about prevention?
To help prevent tick-born diseases, wear long pants and long sleeves when in grass or wooded areas, where there’s leaf litter, or along lakes, streams and rivers, and be sure to apply insect/tick repellant containing 20 to 30 percent DEET. When applying DEET on a child, spray a little on your hands and rub it onto their clothes or skin. Never spray a tick repellant directly on or near a child because you don’t want them to breathe it in or get it in their eyes, nose or mouth.

How often should I check for ticks?
If concerned about tick bites or you’ve been in a high-risk area, check yourself and your children every day. Ticks like moisture, so it’s important to look in the creases of the body such as the underarms, in the groin area, behind the knees, in the hair and between the toes. If you or your child is bitten by a tick, remove it promptly with tweezers. Grasp it at the head and pull directly up. Do not grasp or squeeze the tick by the body since it will force germs into your body. If the head remains, it will gradually work itself out.

When should I see a doctor about a possible tick-borne illness?
Fever, rash, headache and muscle aches can be symptoms of early Lyme disease infection. Other tick-borne diseases may have different symptoms. If you notice any unusual or severe symptoms, especially if you know you’ve been bitten by a tick or have been in an area where ticks might be present, you should contact your doctor immediately.

Where can I find experts in Lyme disease?
Stony Brook Medicine has a very extensive program for adults, which includes a laboratory program as well as a clinical program. At Stony Brook Children’s, members of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, provide multidisciplinary, comprehensive diagnosis, treatment and management of Lyme and other diseases transmitted by ticks to children. All of our infectious disease specialists are boardcertified with expertise in treating Lyme disease, and are up to date on all relevant tick disease-related treatments and research. They remain current on the latest guidelines, and bring a level of experience to their patients that can make a difference in both common and hard-to-diagnose cases. Fortunately there are excellent resources available to Suffolk County residents.

For information about Stony Brook Medicine resources for adults call (631) 444-3490, and for children call (631) 444-7692. Farther east, the Tick-Borne Disease Resource Center at Southampton Hospital ( offers education and facilitates access to diagnosis and treatment of tick-borne diseases.

All health and health-related information contained in this article is intended to be general and/or educational in nature and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with a healthcare professional for help, diagnosis, guidance, and treatment. The information is intended to offer only general information for individuals to discuss with their healthcare provider. It is not intended to constitute a medical diagnosis or treatment or endorsement of any particular test, treatment, procedure, service, etc. Reliance on information provided is at the user’s risk. Your healthcare provider should be consulted regarding matters concerning the medical condition, treatment, and needs of you and your family. Stony Brook University/SUNY is an affirmative action, equal opportunity educator and employer.

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