More New Yorkers are being diagnosed with diseases that are spread by pests like mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks. The number of Lyme disease cases in the city has nearly doubled since 2012. There were 545 cases that year compared with 1,083 last year. As health reporter Erin Billups explains, until better tick control measures are in place, it's up to homeowners and individuals to fight the pests.
"I thought people that got Lyme disease are hunters or people that go hiking in the mountains,” said Noreen Gabbani. “I never thought from gardening in my small backyard, here on Staten Island, that I would be at risk of getting bit by a tick.”
More Americans are at risk today, than a decade ago. During that time the number of people contracting tick-borne infections doubled. Gabbani was diagnosed in 2016 with Lyme disease and a co-infection of Babesiosis.
“I had really bad headaches. My eyes were bothering me. I was very fatigued. I felt like I had the flu,” said Gabbani. “I was having heart palpitations. I felt dizzy. I couldn't take the light."
In a recent report, the Centers for Disease Control says increased commerce and travel over the last decade, have led to triple the number of diseases spread through bugs- like mosquitoes and fleas... With three quarters of new infections coming from ticks.
Nine new germs were also discovered during this time.
"There's really no effective tick control method that exists right now in this country. So that's a huge problem. We don't have a vaccine against tick borne diseases. That's a huge problem, said Dr. Brian Fallon, who serves as director of the Lyme and Tick Borne Disease Research Center at Columbia University. “The good news about this CDC report, was that it was highlighting, we've got a major, major problem in the United States."
The CDC says 80 percent of local health departments lack critical prevention infrastructure to fight the growing threat. Fallon says there are simple ways to lower risk of infection.
“People should enjoy their lives. They should go out. But they should go out with care. So it's great to hang out in areas of wide open fields with well cut grass, without leaf litter. Those are pretty safe areas because the ticks don't like wide open fields they don't like the sun."
Gabbani recently returned to gardening - but takes pains to prevent another bite. She sprays herself down with DEET or picaridin- based repellants. She wears gloves, socks and boots. But she's still taking medication to keep her symptoms at bay.
"I stress to everybody,” says Gabbani, “to check themselves for ticks, to be very, very careful out, especially you know outside gardening, you know taking walks. People that have pets. It's a big issue. It's a big problem."
Other steps you can take to lower your risk of contracting a tick-borne illness includes:
- Wear light colored clothing
- Tuck pants into socks
- Tie hair and wear a hat
- Spray clothing with permethrin
- Wash and dry clothes on high heat after spending time in wooded areas
- Do tick check, look in joint areas
- Keep lawn mowed, cut overgrown brush, remove leaf litter