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The price we pay for a mild winter: ticks, with other bugs to follow

The bugs seem to be everywhere this spring, right?

Pesky mosquitoes. Ticks. Swarms of sandflies. Even fungus gnats.

This spring’s bug invasion could be the unwelcome trade-off for all that February golf.

“We’re not getting the harsh winters,” said Peter Tripi, public health sanitarian for the Erie County Health Department. “They’re surviving."

Stir into the mix the second-wettest spring in the Buffalo Niagara region since 1870 and the ingredients are ripe for large numbers of pests this year.

“Midges and mosquitoes are loving it,” said Robert Warren, associate professor of biology at SUNY Buffalo State. “This is just perfect weather for them to breed – and breed quickly.”

Of tick populations, Tripi said, “This is ideal for them right now: a wet and cool spring and early summer following a mild winter.”

That could also spell more disease.

Authorities aren’t speculating about how bad 2017 could get, but statistics show tick-generated Lyme disease cases nearly doubled in Erie County last year.

 

The threat of mosquitoes carrying West Nile Virus always looms.

“If there’s an increase in ticks and an increase in mosquitoes, there’s always a potential for an increase in disease,” Tripi said.

Officials recommend taking common-sense measures to protect yourself, family and pets.

Erie County health officials advise:

• Eliminate standing water in gutters, pools, wheel-barrows or tires, which become perfect breeding grounds for disease-carrying mosquitoes.

• Cut grass short and keep bushes cut back.

• Wear proper apparel – boots, long socks, pants and long-sleeve shirts – when hiking in wooded spots or areas with long grasses and plants. Ticks and mosquitoes seek blood meals from exposed skin.

• Use repellents and limit outdoor activity at dusk and dawn, when mosquitoes are most active.

Peter Tripi and fellow officials from the Erie County Heath Department are trying to raise the public's awareness of this spring's higher risk of ticks. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

Business has been busy enough this spring for Scott Franasiak’s Mosquito Joe pest control franchise.

Franasiak expects it will really take off after warmer weather arrives this weekend.

“I don’t think it’s the peak. As more people go outside, there will be more interactions,” said Franasiak, who launched his North Tonawanda business in 2014.

The company offers both traditional synthetic pesticide spray as well as an all-natural formula using rosemary oil. Both are effective at controlling mosquitoes. Larvicide treatments also aid in reducing populations.

Swimming pools and birdbaths aren’t the only breeding grounds.

Food containers, plastic buckets, planters and yard debris collect fallen rain water.

“An overturned garbage can lid can be a breeding ground for thousands of mosquitoes. A bottle cap can be a breeding ground for hundreds,” Franasiak said. “It doesn’t take a lot of water.”

The good news is data shows Western New York hasn’t registered a case of West Nile Virus since a report in Niagara County in 2013. Cases were reported in Erie County in 2011 and 2012.

The only other spring on record with more than 15 inches of spring rain – and more rain than the 17 inches that fell this year – was 2011. So, public health officials aren’t taking any chances with this year’s mosquito crop.

“We have to do something because they’re a public health risk,” Tripi said.

Infected ticks are the other big emerging risk.

There were 55 reports of Lyme disease in Erie County last year. That was more than  the previous two years combined.

One of the reasons could be there’s more awareness among the public and physicians to the dangers that ticks pose.

But it could also mean there are more ticks – and more people are being bitten by them.

“If there’s an increase in population, there’s an increased need to take a blood meal,” Tripi said.

Lyme disease is spread by a bacteria in tiny infected black-legged ticks, commonly referred to as deer ticks, which attach to a host and engorge on its blood. Early symptoms mimic the flu: fever, headache and fatigue, as well as a skin rash that often resembles a bull's-eye, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Lyme disease is easily curable by antibiotics when caught early but, left untreated, it can cause serious complications.

Often the disease is linked to travel to areas where infected ticks are most prevalent – such as New England and other parts of the Northeast – but infected ticks are known to exist in the Buffalo Niagara region.

Niagara County officials only started screening for the disease a few years ago.

“We weren’t even sure the disease had reached Niagara County,” said Paul Dicky, the county’s director of environmental health. “Lo and behold, it is here, which is a reason to increase our message to let people know.”

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