State Health Department Advises New Yorkers to Protect Against Ticks and Mosquitoes As Memorial Day Weekend Approaches

Precautions Can Help Prevent Lyme disease, West Nile virus, and EEE virus

ALBANY, N.Y. (May 22, 2013) – With Memorial Day Weekend fast approaching and people spending more time outdoors, State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, M.D., M.P.H., today reminded New Yorkers to take precautions to prevent diseases that are transmitted by mosquitoes and ticks.

"We encourage all New Yorkers to enjoy the outdoors, but make sure they take proper precautions to protect their health," Commissioner Shah said. "By following some simple steps- wearing light colored clothes with long sleeves and long pants, safely using repellents and performing tick checks, people can reduce their risk of exposure to mosquitoes and ticks that can transmit diseases like West Nile Virus, eastern equine encephalitis virus, or Lyme disease. Make safety your top priority whenever you spend time outdoors."

New Yorkers should be aware of potential outdoor health risks, including dangers associated with disease-carrying mosquitoes and ticks. Mosquitoes that can carry West Nile virus (WNV) can be found across the state, while the highest risk for eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) virus is in Central New York. Infected deer ticks, which can transmit Lyme disease and other diseases, can be found in all counties.

Most cases of Lyme disease are contracted from mid-May through July when nymphal deer tick populations are present. These ticks are very small- the size of a poppy seed—and often go undetected for long periods of time, giving them more time to transmit what they may be carrying . Human cases of mosquito-borne illnesses are most often reported in August and September, but taking steps to prevent mosquito bites is recommended whenever people are outdoors.

Bryon Backenson, director of the State Department of Health's (DOH) Vector Surveillance Unit, said, "Predicting mosquito and tick populations for the coming summer is very difficult. Seasonal weather conditions can change the activity level of both ticks and mosquitoes quickly. What is most important to know is that there are always risks of mosquito and tick-borne diseases across the State, and people should take appropriate precautions. "

The following summaries include basic information on West Nile Virus, EEE virus, and Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, along with recommended precautions to reduce potential exposure and health risks.

West Nile Virus and EEE virus

West Nile Virus is a mosquito-borne infection that can cause serious illness and, in some cases, may be fatal. Not all mosquitoes carry WNV, but human cases have been reported counties across the State. In 2012, there were 107 reported human cases of West Nile Virus statewide and nine deaths.

Eastern equine encephalitis is a viral disease that can affect people and animals, including horses. Individuals who become infected may not suffer any symptoms, or may experience flu-like illness, headaches, fever and fatigue. In more severe cases, serious illness may occur, involving seizures, and, in rare cases, coma and death. There were no reported human cases last year, but there have been three confirmed death from the disease in New York in the past four years.

The following precautions are highly recommended to reduce risk of infection from mosquito-borne diseases, including West Nile Virus and eastern equine encephalitis virus:

  • Cover your skin as completely as possible when outside when mosquitoes are present and active. Wear long sleeves, pants and socks.
  • Use insect repellent on exposed skin and follow label directions. Repellents that include DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus are recommended.
  • Make sure there are screens in your home's windows and doors. Make sure the screens are free of rips, tears and holes.
  • Eliminate all standing water in yards and around your home and property where mosquitoes can breed, including: plastic containers, pool covers, wading pools, ceramic pots, clogged drainpipes, and wheelbarrows. Also change water in bird baths twice a week.
  • Clean vegetation and debris from the edges of ponds.

For additional information on mosquito-borne illnesses such as West Nile Virus and EEE, as well as key health precautions, visit the DOH web site at:

Lyme and other tick-borne diseases

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria transmitted by infected deer ticks (both nymphs and adults), which are most active when temperatures are above freezing. Lyme disease can affect people of any age.

Since reporting of Lyme disease to DOH began in 1986, more than 100,000 cases have been documented. 5,345 cases were reported in 2012. Individuals who spend time in grassy and wooded environments are at greatest risk of exposure. It is important to do thorough body checks for ticks after playing or working outdoors during the next few months, paying close attention to armpits, the area behind the knees and ears, the hairline, the waist, and the groin.

Lyme disease is spread when an infected tick bites a person and remains attached for 36 hours or more. In 60-80 percent of cases an expanding rash resembling a bull's eye or solid patch, will appear near the site of the bite. If an expanding rash more than two inches apart appears or flu-like symptoms occur over a 30-day period following a tick bite, or if an expanding rash more than two inches across appears, contact your health care provider immediately.

It is critical, if a tick is found on the body, to remove it immediately, preferably with fine point tweezers, grasping the tick as close to its attachment to the skin. When removing a tick, if its mouthparts break off and remain in the skin, do not be concerned. The mouthparts alone cannot transmit Lyme disease because the infective body of the tick is no longer attached. The mouthparts can be left alone. They will dry up and fall out by themselves in a few days or they can be removed as you would a splinter.

Lyme disease is just one of several diseases that can be transmitted by ticks. Others include babesiosis, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The key to preventing Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases is taking safety precautions before heading into areas where ticks may be present. Anyone who will be spending time in a grassy or wooded area should:

  • Make sure shirts are tucked in and also tuck pants into socks to prevent ticks from accessing the skin
  • Wear long sleeve shirts and pants, when practical
  • Wear light colored clothing that will make it easier to spot and remove ticks
  • Check for ticks every two to three hours while outdoors and brush off any ticks you find before they attach
  • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors (preferably within two hours) to wash off and more easily find ticks on your body
  • Perform a full body check at the end of the day to ensure that no ticks are attached.

Repellents also provide protection against tick bites. Choose a repellent that contains DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Use products that contain permethrin only on clothes. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents. Treated clothing or gear remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is also available and remains protective for up to 70 washings. Follow the label directions when using repellents and apply in small amounts, avoiding contact with the eyes, nose or mouth. Use only small amounts when applying repellants on children.

For additional information on tick-borne diseases and recommended precautions, visit the DOH web site at:

*A DOH expert will be available for media interviews via satellite Thursday, May 23 from 10:00 a.m. - 11:00 a.m. If you are interested in setting up a time, email Marci Natale at: Please provide the following information: time preference for interview, newsroom phone number, producer line phone number, IFB line number (with mix/minus), name of individual conducting the interview.

DOH Expert: Bryon Backenson, NYS Department of Health
Bryon Backenson is the director of both the investigations and vector surveillance units in the Bureau of Communicable Disease Control in the Department of Health. In that position, he oversees community-based communicable disease outbreak investigations, as well as tick and mosquito surveillance and associated research projects. He has worked on various aspects of vector-borne diseases, particularly Lyme disease, for more than 20 years. He is a past president of the National Association of Vector-borne Disease Control Officials, and is a member of ASTHO's Climate Change Collaborative, representing the role that climate change may play on vector-borne diseases. He is also an Assistant Professor at the University at Albany School of Public Health, where he teaches infectious disease epidemiology.