Researchers 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.