Protect Against Tick Bites - Lyme Disease, Other Tick-Borne Illnesses Still a Threat in Cold Weather

OSWEGO COUNTY — Ticks are most active in the warmer months but remain a threat whenever temperatures are above freezing, and the Oswego County Health Department is urging hunters and others spending time outdoors this time of year to take precautions.

With hunting season underway, the Oswego County Health Department would like to remind residents about the risk of tick-borne illness, such as Lyme disease, and steps that can be taken to prevent tick bites.

“Ticks are most active in warm and moist conditions, but ticks remain an active threat in the cold weather,” said Oswego County Public Health Director Jiancheng Huang. “In past hunting seasons, tick infestations have been quite prevalent.”

Huang encourages county residents to be proactive and protect themselves against tick bites, even during the colder months. Common habitats for the deer tick are leaf litter in wooded areas, grassy areas along wooded edges, and low bushes and shrubs.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes most tick-borne illnesses occur during the summer, but ticks can remain active well into fall or even year-round in some areas. Outside the busiest season for ticks in April to July, the most likely time for an emergency room visit from a tick bite in the Northeast is October and November, according to CDC data. The CDC has reported a major spike in emergency room visits for tick bites in the region starting in September that has yet to level off.

Ticks can carry a wide range of bacterium and other germs that can cause illness in people or pets, according to the CDC. Lyme disease, the most common tick-borne illness in Oswego County, is a caused by a bacterial infection transmitted by the bite of an infected deer tick.

“New York State has one of the highest incidences of Lyme disease in the country and Oswego County has seen a significant increase of Lyme disease cases in recent years,” Huang said, noting Lyme disease can cause serious health problems if not caught early and treated properly.

While Lyme disease cases in Oswego County have increased dramatically over the past decade, other tick-borne illnesses such as babesiosis and anaplasmosis are also a threat to humans. Earlier this year, health officials reported the first known human case of anaplasmosis, an illness caused by a bacterium that can lead to fever, headache, chills and muscle aches. 

Avoiding tick bites is the best way to protect yourself, your family and your pets. CDC recommends treating gear and clothing, boots and camping gear with permethrin products, which kill ticks, before the hunting, as well as using insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol or 2-undecanone. CDC also recommends tucking pants into boots or socks and tucking shirts into pants to prevent ticks from crawling inside clothing.

Hunting can bring people in close contact with ticks, and CDC urges hunters to take the proper precautions during hunting season to keep themselves, their families and their pets healthy. CDC encourages hunters to walk in the center of trails when possible and to wear gloves when dressing or butchering game.

CDC also recommends treating dogs regularly with tick prevention products.

Following your hunt, CDC recommends showering immediately, checking your body for ticks and removing any attached ticks from people or pets. Hunters and others spending time outdoors should watch for fever, rash or flu-like illness in the weeks following tick exposure, even if they don’t remember being bitten by a tick.

“Prompt treatment can reduce your risk of developing severe illness,” said Huang. “See your health care provider if you become ill after being bit by a tick or if you’ve been in the woods or other areas with high brush where ticks commonly live.”

The Center for Vector-borne Diseases at SUNY Upstate, which offers a free tick testing service for a dozen potential pathogens, reports nearly 40% of ticks tested from Oswego County are carrying at least one pathogen, with the bacterium that causes Lyme disease detected in more than 30% of ticks. Roughly one-third of ticks tested statewide contained pathogens, with the parasitic disease babesiosis and the bacterium that causes anaplasmosis the most common after Lyme disease.

Dr. Saravanan Thangamani, director of SUNY’s vector biology lab, said the tick testing program is a public health tool used to track the emergence of ticks and tick-borne diseases in Central New York.

“Tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease, continue to emerge and re-emerge in Central New York,” Thangamani said. “The geographic expansion of the Deer tick and its potential to transmit multiple disease-causing agents, including the Lyme disease-causing agent, is a major public health concern.”

Thangamani noted a 400% increase in Lyme disease has been observed in Central New York in the past decade. The northward expansion of the Lone Star tick and the introduction of other exotic tick species in the U.S., like the Asian longhorned tick adds additional layers of public health concern.

The free tick testing program is aimed at better understanding the factors responsible for the expansion of ticks and tick-borne diseases in Central New York. Ticks are tested for a dozen disease-causing agents, including those which cause Lyme disease, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis.

Thangamani said the information provided by the tick testing is used to develop a publicly available interactive mapping tool, which tracks the emergence of ticks and tick-borne diseases in real time. The information allows the public, clinicians and researchers to identify locations where particular species are present and identify hot spots for disease-carrying ticks.

“Our community engaged tick testing program has proved to be an efficient and successful mechanism to engage with the community to monitor the geographic expansion of ticks and tick-borne diseases,” Thangamani said, adding nearly 17,000 ticks have been tested.

If you want to get a tick tested, visit, click on the “Tick Submission” tab and follow the instructions.

Testing at the SUNY Upstate lab is free of charge, but postage is required. Results will be shared with the submitter via email and should not be used to make health care decisions. Ticks testing positive for a pathogen does not confirm that the bitten human or animal was exposed to the pathogen.

The CDC recommends people take these steps to help prevent Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases:

  • Wear Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone, and follow the product instructions.
  • Avoid tall grasses and bushy, wooded areas when you are outside.
  • Treat clothing and gear with products containing 0.5% permethrin.
  • Check for ticks daily. Check yourself, your children, and your dogs after returning from outdoor activities. The longer a tick is attached, the higher the risk of getting Lyme disease.
  • Shower soon after being outdoors.
  • Call your doctor if you get a fever or rash.

Ticks prefer humid, wooded areas and die rapidly in dry and sunny environments. The following tips from CDC may help make backyards, parks, and playgrounds tick-safe zones:

  • Clear all leaf litter, tall grasses, and brush around your home and the edges of your lawn.
  • Wood chips restrict tick migration. Place them between your lawns and wooded areas.
  • Mow your lawn regularly. Clear brush and leaf litter often.
  • If you have a bird feeder, keep the area below it clean.
  • Make sure wood is neatly stacked in dry areas.
  • Place playground equipment, patios, and decks away from yard edges and trees.

CDC recommends physical and visual tick inspections after outdoor activities. Parents or guardians should check children carefully after spending time outdoors. Children should also be educated not to remove ticks themselves.

female_deer_tick_CDCFemale deer tick. Photo courtesy of NYS DOH/CDC/Michael L. Levin, Ph. D.

Full body checks should include examination of areas under the arms, in and around the ears, inside belly button, backs of knees, in and around hair, between legs and around the waist.

Pets should be checked as well, including in and around the ears, around eyelids, under collars, around tails, under front legs, between back legs and between toes. Dogs vaccinated against Lyme disease should still be checked for ticks as the parasites can attach to other hosts, including people.

If you find a tick attached, you need to use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, then perpendicularly pull away from the skin, wash the area with soap, and apply topical antiseptic. The state Department of Health developed a video to show how to remove a tick on YouTube:

For more information about protecting your family against ticks, visit, or call the Oswego County Health Department’s Environmental Division at 315-349-3557.