More ticks with Lyme disease found in urban areas

By Matt Porter

April 17, 2014 Updated Apr 17, 2014 at 7:01 PM EDT

Vestal, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Standing just feet from a cement trail leading to Binghamton University's East Gym, biologist Ralph Garruto demonstrated how he has found ticks hiding in plain sight.

"If you have a picnic table out over there, under a tree like that or just off to the edge, ticks are in this kind of leaf litter," Garruto said.

Garruto has been studying tick behavior since the pests arrived in Broome County en masse six years ago.

Through his research, he's found more ticks living around building and in man-made environments than in the deep woods.

Recently, after testing thousands of ticks, he's found Lyme disease in about a third of his specimens.

"The number of ticks we're finding in built-in environments is highly significant," Garruto said. "And when you think, more than one out three ticks carries the infectious agent, there's a very significant risk."

He pointed out paths and stairways built along high brush which, in the summer, can be a haven for ticks.

"In high foot traffic areas, there are more ticks and more possibilities in coming into contact with these ticks than there are in the nature preserve on this campus," Garruto said.

He said squirrels, mice, and other mammals that carry Lyme disease like to forage for food near man-made environments, and those animals also carry ticks which transmit the illness.

In his lab, Garruto found the smallest stage for ticks, the nymphs, to be some of the most trouble for humans.

"The ticks are very active in the nymph stage," he said. "And they're very difficult to find because they're so small."

The Broome County Health Department found that infections of Lyme disease have almost tripled from 2012 to 2013, rising from 72 to 207 cases.

Some of that increase may be due to better diagnoses of people infected with Lyme.

Marianne Yourdon, a nurse in the clinical disease department, said Lyme disease is endemic in the Southern Tier, meaning it won't ever go away.

She said people need to frequently check themselves for ticks if they spend time a lot of time outside.

"The changes we have to make, being careful when we're outdoors, checking for ticks when we get indoors, that's not something that's going to change," Yourdon said.

A typical sign for Lyme disease is a red, bulls-eye shaped rash where the initial bite occurred.

If not, symptoms including a stiff neck, muscle aches, and other flu-like symptoms could be a sign of the early stages of the illness.

If you think you may have been bitten by a tick with Lyme disease, Yourdon recommends seeing a doctor immediately.

More information about Lyme disease and its transmission can be found online at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

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