The Niagara County Department of Health has issued a health advisory on tick exposure and Lyme disease risk following positive reports in eastern parts of the county.
"The deer tick (ixodes scapularis) that transmits Lyme disease has spread throughout the Northeastern United States, including Western New York and Niagara County," Public Health Director Daniel Stapleton said.
Environmental Health Director Paul Dicky reported ticks were collected between the Erie Canal towpath and Rochester Road in Gasport and in Royalton.
"Of samples collected to date in Niagara County, 41 ticks were positive for Borrelia burgdorferi, the Lyme bacteria," he said. "Not all deer ticks carry Lyme bacteria. Once positive ticks are found in one area of the county, however, it is likely other areas will host some infected ticks, as they are carried by animals that move around."
Dicky said his division is only testing ticks found through field surveillance and is not accepting ticks from medical providers or the public for testing.
Lyme disease occurs when an infected tick bites the skin and stays attached long enough to inject bacteria into the bloodstream. The longer an infected tick stays attached, the more likely it will transmit Lyme disease germs.
Typical signs and symptoms of Lyme disease include a circular "bulls-eye" skin rash, headache, fever and fatigue. Lyme disease is easily treated and cured with antibiotics in the early stages, but if left untreated can result in serious complications involving joints, immune system, nervous system, heart and other organs.
The Niagara County Department of Health began conducting field surveillance by dragging for ticks in 2015 after infected ticks were showing up in other Western New York counties.
The tick-dragging technique involves dragging a piece of white fabric through bushy areas and brush frequented by deer, rodents and birds. Environmental health workers, dressed in protective clothing and gloves, pick the ticks off the fabric and place them in collection containers. Ticks collected by the environmental staff were submitted to a state entomologist (bug doctor) for verification and testing.
"Since it is not possible to test or eradicate all ticks, the best way to prevent Lyme disease is to take actions that prevent ticks from biting people," Stapleton said. "This time of year presents particularly high risk of contact with ticks, unless people learn how to protect themselves.
"When in wooded and grassy areas, wear clothing that covers all skin and is light-colored to see ticks better. Tuck shirts in pants and pants in socks. Use recommended repellents and follow label directions. Afterward, check the body carefully for ticks. Remove any ticks by grasping the mouthparts with tweezers as close to the skin as possible. ... Disinfect the skin, and shower or bathe. Contact your doctor for guidance."
Niagara County Legislator and Niagara County Board of Health member Richard Andres added, "It is important that we educate the public on what they can do to protect themselves and their families."
Find more information about ticks and Lyme disease at www.cdc.gov/lyme.