Thursday, October 23, 2014

Researchers Finding Lyme Disease in Adirondacks

#3 - HarringtonResearchers from Paul Smith’s College are finding Lyme Disease in ticks and small mammals in the Adirondack Park.

Paul Smith’s College professor Lee Ann Sporn is heading her college’s involvement in a Lyme Disease study that includes the state Department of Health and Trudeau Institute in Saranac Lake. Trudeau is working to develop a vaccine for Lyme, while Sporn and students are monitoring the disease by testing mammals and ticks for it. Researchers hope to get a better understanding of the biology of the disease, where it is found geographically, and what factors are influencing its spread.

So far, Sporn said that some of the test results have surprised her, including that a high percentage (eight of twelve) of small mammals tested positive for Lyme Disease in Schroon Lake.  The animals — mainly mice, shrews and voles — were trapped in the wild.

Other results include five of eight animals in Queensbury testing positive. Further south outside the Park, four of twelve animals in the Albany Pine Bush Preserve were found with Lyme.

Up north, two of twenty-two small mammals in Pauls Smiths tested positive, while one of twenty-seven animals from Black Brook were found with Lyme. Paul Smiths, located 10 miles north of Saranac Lake, is at an elevation of roughly 1,650 feet, the highest site in the study.

“We were surprised to find positive animals at Paul Smiths and at Black Brook because we’re out in the field all of the time, and we’ve never seen deer ticks here,” Sporn said. “We thought this would be our negative, but it wasn’t. So now that we do know there were positive ticks here, we are talking about looking at higher elevations.”

Sporn said that her crews have found deer ticks (also known as blacklegged ticks) in Wilmington, but not at other sites they’ve checked in the interior Adirondacks.

Humans contract the disease through tick bites. Ticks need to be attached at least twenty-four hours before they can transmit the disease to humans.

In Schroon Lake, researchers found 35 adult ticks and eleven nymphs. Nine of the adults tested positive while two of nymphs had the disease. In Queensbury 12 of 35 adults and 10 of 50 nymphs had Lyme.

“I think what we’re going to find out is Lyme Disease is a lot more prevalent in this area than imagined,” Sporn said.

In addition to testing animals and ticks for the disease, the college is also surveying local veterinarians and hunters for info about the disease.

Lyme Disease was first discovered in Lyme, Connecticut, in 1975. In recent decades, particularly high numbers of cases have been recorded in the Hudson Valley. Scientists believe it has moved north in New York State because of factors such as climate change.

In Essex County, the health department has had confirmed twenty-two cases in 2012, eighty-one cases in 2013, and thirty-four to date in 2014. Common symptoms of Lyme disease include a rash, fever, body aches, facial paralysis, and arthritis.

“Historically, it’s more prevalent along the Champlain border in Essex County,” said Susan Allott, director of preventive services for the Essex County Public Health Department.

In Franklin County, the health department recorded seven cases in 2011, seven in 2012, fifteen in 2013, and 10 so far in 2014.

“I would speculate that there’s probably more cases out there,” Franklin County Public Health Director Kathy Strack said.

Both health departments have public education campaigns to inform the public about the dangers of Lyme Disease. Sporn said the college is also looking to do the same and will be participating in a forum on Lyme Disease at the Wild Center on December 6. Representatives from the Trudeau Institute, High Peaks Animal Hospital, and Adirondack Health are also scheduled to take part.

“We don’t want to wait until we understand everything about the spread of Lyme Disease and the ecology of Lyme Disease to inform the public that it’s here,” Sporn said.

Photo by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Lyme Disease is spread through the bite of deer ticks, which are also known as blacklegged ticks.

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Mike Lynch is a staff writer and photographer for the nonprofit Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly news magazine with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues. Mike’s favorite outdoor activities include paddling, hiking, fishing and backcountry skiing. In 2011, he paddled the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail from Old Forge to Fort Kent, Maine. From 2007 until 2014, Mike worked as an outdoors writer and photographer for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise in Saranac Lake. Mike welcomes story ideas and can be reached at

26 Responses

  1. Howard says:

    The session at The Wild Center December 6th is at 1:00, and it’s free, for anyone who wants to get the most current news, and ways to deal with Lyme before and after a bite.

  2. Scott says:

    I found a couple ticks on myself after hiking Jay Mt last summer

  3. Keep it Wild says:

    I’d like to know where/how sampling was done. Were traps stratified by land use type? Edges vs. Forest Interior? Was distance from edge recorded? People already blame “the woods” when it comes to Lyme disease not realizing it is the edge habitats associated with fragmentation that make for an optimal setting for the spread of Lyme. Most of the areas mentioned aside from Paul Smiths and Black Brook are quite fragmented and shouldn’t be representative of the Adirondacks as a whole. In addition to elevation I hope they are looking at land use pattern in their study. We do not want for people to fear the true woods. As those of us who are out in it all the time know, one is far more likely to come across Lyme-carrying ticks in Queensbury than in the wilderness. Ideally maybe this could be an opportunity to gain an understanding of the difference between wilderness and a woodlot in a subdivision. I hope if this story is more widely covered, this line of questioning is incorporated.

    • Lee Ann Sporn says:

      Thanks for your question. We follow the NYS DOH protocol for collection of ticks. We cover 1000 square meters,
      and target edge areas, with relatively closed canopy and ample leaf litter. Moist, well-drained soil.

  4. Ed says:

    I agree with Keep it Wild…I have never gotten a tick on my hundreds of hikes in NY & VT. My ticks have always been when I was in the yard (West Haven, VT).

  5. William J. OHern says:

    I spent a lot of time this year bushwhacking in the North Lake, Moose River, West Canada Lakes. Carried a tick extracor …needed to use it numerous times. Of coarse I don’t know if any tick carried lyme but this was the first time Ive ever neededto remove tick in 50 years.

  6. Max says:

    Picked up 3 ticks last week, last week of October, walking in the woods near e-town. Found them before they dug in.

  7. Sue says:

    I found a confirmed deer tick attached to my neck in the fall of 2013 outside Lake Placid. We hadn’t travelled and we live in the woods. I’m not sure if it was brought in by one of our pets or if I got it outside. I DO know it was firmly attached although not yet engorged. Magnifying glass and doctor confirmed it was most definitely a deer tick.

  8. Laurie says:

    I contracted Lyme disease three years ago. It really screwed up my life. I was a New York State Guide, and a college outdoor club advisor,,,therefore up in the adks…many weekends. I have to say a couple things. 1. I do not know where i contracted it. 2. I have never been a proponent of bug spray. sooo… my mistake 3. I pretty much went from a I can barely get off the couch, to now feeling better.. baby steps of outdoor stuff. Give you an idea of how hard its been? Before high peak climbs,, maybe 1-5 milRes lowland hike. 4. I have seen four different doctors/specialists on everything from eyes, to skin, to RA doc. and last be not least…not one,,,,not one of the specialists in my area is familiar with lyme disease, some even said, I did not have it! I had to prove it to one doc in Syracuse by showing my bulls eye. Sooooo, yeah is serious and people need to know what to do to prevent it, and someone needs to take the bull by the horns to bring it to the medical community. Hoping this will help! Thanks and God Bless. Laurie

    • Bill Ott says:

      Has any reader been sickened by DEET or other bug repellent? If sickened, was it temporary or persistent? This site is a good clearing house for grass roots information, and now is a good time to bring it on.

      • Maureen J. Reardon says:

        Have you seen the documentary Under Our Skin? It is really enlightening. Hope that you are on the mend. Best wishes.

    • bob says:

      Laurie I have several health issues, but even with my health issues I was still able to hike 10 miles-15- and be fine- now I can only go into ponds or traisl that are under a mile- 6/10’ths of a MILE is about optimal- IF I hike further, I get really wiped out, weak, shaky, and it takes me days to get back to my normal crappy feeling from such an aweful crappy state after pushing too far- Forget about mountains- anything with an incline, and I really struggle- even if it’s under a mile- The Sweat will just pour off me- literally- I get weak, shaky, trembling- dizzy, feel like I’m going to throw up- I have to sit down and let the weakness pass, then I can go a bit further, then repeat- people In their 70’s and 80’s are literally passing me on the trails like I was standing still- Uggggh- I was such an active hiker/outdoors person, then wham, something happened- Tests have never shown lyme’s, but something defiantly happened- within I’d say a couple of months, I went from being able to hike 15 miles no problem, to only few miles, then to under a mile- It’s like my muscles aren’t getting enough fuel now to sustain activity- I suspect lyme’s but again- no medical confirmation- All I know is that this, whatever it is, has ruined my life- pretty much cut me down in prime of life- Hiking is no longer a joy, but a struggle-

  9. Carol says:

    I pulled a deer tick off me last night (11/25/14) after walking the nature trails at Silver Bay. My husband pulled one off himself this morning. We stayed on the trail, which was deeply covered in fallen leaves from the many tall trees lining the trail, but did not walk through any tall grass or low brush.

  10. Wally says:

    I’ve always assumed I was safe in the mountains. Get lots of ticks around home (Saratoga Springs), but up north. Thanks for the article – and good luck with a vaccine.

  11. Dan Ladd says:

    Nice article Mike, you are fine addition to this publication.

    I contacted and was treated for Lyme Disease early in July of 2010. I was lucky in that it was caught early stage, although I still attribute a few issues I occasionally have to Lyme.

    Anyway, in backtracking my activities leading up to my diagnosis I had been turkey hunting in late May in “the woods” in the Hogtown area where hikers frequent Buck and Sleeping Beauty mountains. I’d also been in the nearby farm country in South Bay. Later in June I’d been brook trout fishing near Raquette Lake and working in my gardens and wood pile at my home in Fort Ann. When I was treated the doctor showed me a map where deer ticks had been reported that included most of the southern and eastern ADKs. In 2012 I found a Lone Star tick crawling on me after a fishing trip near Caroga Lake.

    This past weekend I deer hunted in both Hogtown and North Bolton and our guys had deer ticks on them in both places. I suggest all hikers, hunters, yard dwellers and pet owners be alert throughout our region. Ticks love the warm weather we’re having right now. I don’t like chemicals but I don’t like Lyme Disease either and I now treat my hunting and work clothes with Repel Permanone.

    • Keep it Wild says:

      I too contracted Lyme (not in the Adirondacks) and agree it is a very serious and bad thing. I have also heard that treating your outdoor clothing and leaving them in the garage or somewhere not inside your house may be an effective way to handle it if you are frequently in a higher tick area.

      My comment though is that in general anywhere it is considered good hunting (though I know that is a very subjective thing and apologize for generalizing) could be considered good habitat for finding ticks – that mix of early successional or new growth with forest edge and forest cover is very different than the mature interior forest… And is what both the small mammals and deer prefer. We are dealing with a spread though – like a virus – so it’d make sense that it’d go the easiest places first (higher densities of host mammals & compatible climate – i.e. Hudson Valley) and then move inward following a gradient of fragmentation (habitat/food abundance) and host population dynamics. It may not be stopped by interior forest but in terms of percentages that is still the best bet for the foreseeable future (until there is a vaccine)!

  12. Paul says:

    Don’t confuse deer ticks with deer keds which are very common in the Adirondacks. It is hard to go hunting on a warm fall day where there are deer and not get a few on the back of your neck.

    The tick that vectors lyme disease is very small and pretty hard to see compared to a ked. Keds are not known to vector any diseases.

  13. Rose Anne says:

    I’ve found tiny ticks and tick nymphs on me almost every weekend I’ve done yard work at our lakefront camp in Queensbury. This past weekend was no exception.
    Unfortunately, I never think about putting on repellent until I find a tick…I will have to change that!

  14. Maureen J. Reardon says:

    The Canton Animal Hospital reports that one in five dogs tested is positive for Lyme’s Disease. My dog, Okwari, tested positive last week and is currently being treated with antibiotics.

  15. Lee Ann Sporn says:

    Thanks, everyone, for sharing your personal experiences! The sites where ticks are found on yourselves and pets is important information for our monitoring efforts.

  16. michael says:

    I work on Fort Drum down range where there are many ticks. I have a camp just north of Cranberry Lake, where I spend a lot of time in the woods. I’ve never seen a tick up there so far, but I guess it’s only a matter of time

  17. Frank says:

    We just buried one of our two dogs. She became ill early last summer and the vet diagnosed her with Lyme Disease. We never thought much about ticks, but now they’re everywhere. I’ve suffered through two tick bites this year; the little buggers seem to be everywhere.

  18. Dan Crane says:

    I lived in either central or northern New York for almost all my life, which is now around 50 years. For the vast majority of my life, I hiked, backpacked, birded and bushwhacked over a good portion of upstate New York. Despite all of that, I just recently saw some deer ticks for the first time. Luckily for me, they were on a dog and not myself.

    I cannot help but ask myself what I am doing right to avoid these little buggers. Or, maybe they just do not find me very appealing.

    Nah, there is no way that can be true, I’m too endearing.

  19. Researchers Finding Lyme Disease in Adirondacks » Upper Saranac Lake Association says:

    […] Read Article […]

  20. […] Other results include five of eight animals in Queensbury testing positive. Further south outside the Park, four of twelve animals in the Albany Pine Bush Preserve were found with Lyme. Up north, two of twenty-two small mammals in Paul Smith’s tested positive, while one of twenty-seven animals from Black Brook were found with Lyme. Paul Smiths, located 10 miles north of Saranac Lake, is at an elevation of roughly 1,650 feet, the highest site in the study. “We were surprised to find positive animals at Paul Smiths and at Black Brook because we’re out in the field all of the time, and we’ve never seen deer ticks here,” Sporn said. “We thought this would be our negative, but it wasn’t. So now that we do know there were positive ticks here, we are talking about looking at higher elevations.” – For complete article see […]

  21. Barbara Rasmussen says:

    I had tick attachment in fall of 2014 for 4 days. I have Lyme. I live in Plattsburgh. Got bit near CCC. Also, when our dog was taken to vet for regular check up, the vet said that Point Au Rouche and all of Peru area were infested with ticks.

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