As tick season approaches, researchers warn about a potentially deadly virus found in ticks in New York State. As we begin to head into the warmer spring and summer months, the threat of tick bites increases around the state,

Adult ticks, which are approximately the size of sesame seeds, are most active from March to mid-May and from mid-August to November. Both nymphs and adults can transmit Lyme disease. Ticks can be active any time the temperature is above freezing. Infected deer ticks can be found throughout New York State.

Scientists recently published a study about ticks that are carrying the potentially deadly, but rare Heartland virus. The virus was initially discovered in 2009 in A. americanum ticks in Missouri. The ticks have also been found in New York. The virus causes symptoms in humans that are similar to Lyme Disease - fever, nausea, diarrhea, joint pain, and low white blood cells. Gonzalo Vazquez-Prokopec of Emory University, who is a senior author of the study said,

“Heartland is an emerging infectious disease that is not well understood. We’re trying to get ahead of this virus by learning everything that we can about it before it potentially becomes a bigger problem.”

The Heartland virus was recently found in ticks in Georgia, which indicates to scientists that it is spreading and could potentially become more of a common threat to humans. If we have learned one thing from the coronavirus pandemic, it's that we are susceptible to viruses carried by animals and insects. The last thing we need is another mass outbreak of a deadly virus while we are still trying to get a hold of COVID-19.

Photo by Erik Karits on Unsplash
Photo by Erik Karits on Unsplash

Of course, Lyme Disease is still very much a threat to people by ticks. New York's Department of Health offers these tips to help avoid it,

- In tick-infested areas, your best protection is to avoid contact with soil, leaf litter and vegetation. However, if you garden, hike, camp, hunt, work, or otherwise spend time in the outdoors, you can still protect yourself:
- Wear light-colored clothing with a tight weave to spot ticks easily.
- Wear enclosed shoes, long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Tuck pant legs into socks or boots and shirt into pants.
- Check clothes and any exposed skin frequently for ticks while outdoors and check again once indoors.
- Consider using insect repellent. Follow label directions.
- Stay on cleared, well-traveled trails. Avoid contacting vegetation.
- Avoid sitting directly on the ground or on stone walls.
- Keep long hair tied back, especially when gardening.

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