The Riverhead Town Board is planning to implement a new tick prevention program among its employees this fall.
Discussed at a work session last week, the pilot program would be led by members of the Tick-Borne Disease Resource Center at Stony Brook-Southampton Hospital. It would be the first town on Long Island to participate in such a program.
“As tick populations boom and tick-borne illnesses become more widespread, it is important that we do our best to protect town employees,” said Riverhead Town Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith.
The East End has seen a considerable increase in deer, lonestar and dog tick populations due to warmer temperatures, which allow ticks to survive the winter, according to the resource center.
During training, Riverhead employees would receive information on prevalent ticks in the area and a removal kit that contains tweezers, a magnifier, first-aid supplies and a card to help identify tick species.
Employees will also learn how to spray their shoes with permethrin, which kills ticks on contact. Unlike other repellents that are applied directly to the skin, permethrin is used to treat clothing in advance. When dried into the fabric, the chemical can last for up to six washings before reapplication is needed. Shoes are a suggested item to be treated with permethrin since ticks often climb upward.
“Ticks crawl from the ground up, so if you’re walking through high grass and encounter a tick, if it goes on your shoes it will be killed with permethrin,” said Karen Wulffraat, administrative director for the Tick-Borne Disease Resource Center, adding that spraying your shoes once a month can be helpful.
According to the supervisor’s office, training will be offered to any interested employees and is tentatively scheduled for the week of Sept. 10.
“We’ll probably take bigger measures with certain departments who are within the brush more often,” said May Zegarelli, deputy chief of staff for Ms. Jens-Smith. Those departments would include the parks and recreation, buildings and grounds, highway and water departments.
The session would also include an hourlong educational program as well as preventative tips to stay safe, Ms. Wulffraat said.
Established in 2014, the Tick-Borne Disease Resource Center has distributed thousands of “tick kits” to East End community members and visitors alike. Ms. Wulffraat, a Riverhead resident, proposed the partnership to further their outreach efforts.
“It’s important to know what kind of tick bites you,” Ms. Wulffraat said, to know what kind of symptoms to look out for.
They also operate a tick “help line,” which has seen calls from those unsure of how to pull a tick off properly, visitors to the area who may have been bitten and New York City physicians unfamiliar with diagnosis of Lyme disease and other pathogens. In 2017, they received around 900 calls—double that of 2016—and are on track to meet that volume again this year, Ms. Wulffraat said.
A higher number of reported bites leads her to believe that populations are increasing on the East End.
“Anecdotally, reports of ticks and tick bites have definitely been on the up this year. We’ve also noticed an increase in the number of cases of babesiosis,” she said, which is often found in patients with Lyme Disease.