GLOVERSVILLE - Over the last month, the Emergency Room staff at Nathan Littauer Hospital has been busy removing ticks from patients, counting more than 30 of the blood-sucking arachnids in the last month.
"Some days we'd see five. Just yesterday we saw four," Dr. Todd Duthaler, chief of emergency medicine at Littauer, said Thursday.
Last year at this time, the hospital's lab had only counted three tick identification orders. Already this year the lab had 12 orders.
Deer ticks like this one can carry a number of diseases dangerous to humans.
The hospital counted 37 Lyme disease screening tests in 2011. This year, from Jan. 1 through April 26, there were orders for 45 Lyme disease screening tests.
"It's just been astounding how many tick bites we've seen in the last couple weeks - just in the emergency department," Duthaler said.
Anticipating a tick feeding frenzy in 2012, Nathan Littauer Hospital began planning to launch a tick-bite prevention awareness campaign with a four-fold initiative.
"What's interesting is I think as a society we've concentrated so much on Lyme disease," said Nathan Littauer Hospital spokeswoman Cheryl McGrattan. "We really need to switch our thinking to tick-bite prevention, because there are diseases these ticks are carrying that are new to us. It's really the switch from being a Lyme-disease-literate medical community to focusing on tick-bite prevention."
First, she said, doctors attended a class earlier this month where an expert from Schenectady's Ellis Hospital spoke about Lyme disease.
Second, the hospital was one of the first to join the University of Rhode Island's TickEncounter Resource Center as a tick-encounter prevention partner.
Third, the hospital will distribute shower cards to campgrounds as well as magnets and other convenient forms of literature for tick-bite prevention education.
Fourth, the hospital recruited several other sponsors, including Fulton County Public Health, to help arrange the town hall meeting in May with nationally recognized tick expert, Thomas N. Mather, director of the University of Rhode Island's Center for Vector-Borne Disease and TickEncounter Resource Center.
The Tick Town Hall Meeting will be offered by HealthLink Littauer free to the public at 6:30 p.m. May 14 at the Holiday Inn in Johnstown.
Mather's keynote address is titled "Top 10 things everyone should know about ticks these days."
"We're really excited about our partnership with Nathan Littauer Hospital," Mather said Wednesday. "They've taken this on as something they feel the need to bring to the community, yet they didn't really have the expertise. That's one of the things our TickEncounter program tried to do, is reach out to [partners] exactly like Nathan Littauer Hospital that want to make the community tick-literate."
Mather said his research is finding more ticks in more places in the United States.
"They're definitely moving into suburban and urban areas. Basically, if you see a deer, you probably have deer ticks," Mather said.
While deer are the main reproductive host for adult blacklegged ticks, or deer ticks, they do not infect the tick with Lyme disease, anaplasmosis or other germs. White-footed mice or other rodents and birds are the hosts that the pass infections to ticks.
J. Christopher Foss of Ferguson & Foss Professional Land Surveyors, a sponsor of the town hall meeting, said he's been a land surveyor since 1985, but it wasn't until a few years ago that he ever saw a tick.
"Now it's a daily thing," said Foss, a Johnstown resident and city councilman. "My field crew came in a little while ago and was brushing ticks off themselves. We haven't really noticed them on city properties, but my guys were working just today outside the city of Gloversville and came back with ticks on them."
In light of the increase, Foss said his company decided working with the hospital would be a good idea to educate the public.
"I thought it would be a good opportunity to educate myself and the guys who work for me, and also the general public because it's becoming an issue," Foss said.
The three most common ticks in the state are the deer tick, the American dog tick and the lone star tick. According to the state Department of Health, only deer ticks can carry the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, the most commonly known disease spread by ticks. They can also spread babesiosis and human granulocytic anaplasmosis.
One in five tick nymphs carries Lyme disease bacteria. One in two deer tick adult females carry the bacteria.
Adult female ticks, which are red and black, lay eggs in the spring. The larvae hatch in the summer, feed on their first meal and live through the winter in the soil. They emerge again in the spring as nymphs, which are brown and the size of poppy seeds. As adults, they are abundant in October and active through the winter.
The larger dog tick is reddish-brown and can carry the bacterium that causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
The lone star tick is more active from April through July and identified by a white dot on its back. They can carry the germ that causes human monocytic ehrlichiosis, another illness that, like anaplasmosis, causes fever, muscle aches, headaches and other symptoms that appear one to three weeks after a tick bite.
Assumptions that a mild winter influenced tick behavior are incorrect, Mather said, explaining the length of day is actually what awakens tick nymphs in the spring.
"The ticks were already made last year," Mather explained. "They didn't know there was going to be a warmer winter. They're not active during the winter ... They're more regulated by day length than temperature."
The nymphal deer tick season is more dependent on factors such as summer humidity and rodent populations, he said, which can provide a larvae's first meal and infect the tick with diseases.
Mather said the goal is to prevent ticks from biting people in the first place. That means promoting "a little change of thinking," he said.
"One of the easiest ways to do it is wearing your repellent on your clothes so that you can be protected. That's as easy as getting dressed in the morning," he said. "It's important to try to adapt practices into your lifestyle."
Dr. Duthaler, another panelist at the town hall meeting in May, said if a person does get bitten by a tick, he or she should remove it with a special tool or tweezers - carefully pulling straight up so the tick's mouthpiece doesn't remain in the skin.
"As long as it's been less than 24 to 36 hours, we don't even have to worry about the tick transmitting Lyme disease," he said. "If it is full of blood, we do usually opt to treat with a single dose of antibiotic to wipe out any chance of getting Lyme disease from that tick."
Veterinarian Dr. Melanie Santspree of Glove Cities Veterinary Hospital, also a panelist, said it's important to check pets for ticks, too. She warned against removal tips from old wives tales -such as using a match - that will "usually end up causing more trauma than harm to the pet than the tick."
She said Lyme disease in some animals takes abut four to six weeks to show up on a test. The general treatment is an antibiotic.
"We've definitely started to see more people coming in because they found a tick on their pet or removed a tick and were worried about Lyme disease," she said.
It's essential to treat a pet with a preventive tick and flea repellent, she said.
Public Health Departments across the state have been actively trying to educate the public about preventing tick bites. Most have seen increases in tick incidents already.
"We've really been trying to get the word out," said Montgomery County Community Health Educator Dana K. Plank.
Fulton County Public Health Director Denise Frederick, who will be a panelist at the town hall meeting, said the department has witnessed an upswing in the number of people reporting ticks found on them.
"It's always easier to prevent something than to treat it," she said.
Hamilton County Public Health Director Beth Ryan said her department hasn't seen an increase in lyme disease cases, and there has been only one since last January.
Amanda Whistle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.