Upstate professor releases findings from statewide tick study

Local News

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — The Thangamani Lab at Upstate Medical University has been collecting and testing ticks all across New York State since July. The results are in, and about one-third of the ticks sent to the lab were found carrying disease.

Professor Saravanan Thangamani ran the Citizen Science Tick Testing Program. He asked people across the state to send in any ticks they found on themselves, their kids, or their pets.

From July 4 to October 18, the Thangamani Lab received sometimes 70 samples per day and 1,921 ticks from almost every county in New York.

Data from the Thangamani Lab.

Researchers ran them through machines to test them for diseases and bacteria and came up with some alarming numbers.

“One-third of the ticks we found are carrying at least one disease,” said Thangamani.

A total of 26 percent of the 1,921 ticks collected statewide were positive for Lyme disease, and as you go county by county, that number gets higher.

In Onondaga County, 31 percent of ticks tested were carrying Lyme.

Data from the Thangamani Lab.

“Cortland, Oswego, Tioga, St. Lawrence, they come as close as 50 percent of ticks are positive for Lyme disease,” said Thangamani.

Some of the ticks tested were carrying more than one virus.

“That’s a major problem,” said Thangamani. “It makes it harder to treat.”

What concerns Thangamani even more is the Powassan virus they found in ticks downstate.

“It goes to your brain and 15 percent of the time, it’s fatal,” said Thangamani. “50 percent of the survivors could have longterm neurological sequelae.”

That was the case for former North Carolina State Senator Kay Hagan, who died last month from brain inflammation caused by Powassan virus she contracted in 2016.

Thangamani is now trying to figure out if Lyme is becoming more prevalent or if the numbers are high because so many people mailed in ticks for testing.

“We are trying to work with clinicians to see if we can correlate what we see in the ticks to what they see in the patients,” said Thangamani.

He plans to use these results as a base and is hoping their research over the next few years will help them understand the ticks’ migration.

Data from the Thangamani Lab.

In the meantime, Thangamani believes the best way to deal with ticks is to get ahead of them because he doesn’t think there’s enough research to catch and treat diseases they carry.

“I think the biggest thing is to apply tick repellant,” said Thangamani. “We need more funding from the federal government and state government to do activities like we are doing and to develop new diagnostic tests where they can detect Lyme disease in a much more robust fashion because most often, the tests we have don’t work for everybody.”

Many of the ticks sent into Thangamani’s Lab, he says, came from people’s heads, a good place to check for ticks. “Under the arm, back of the neck, hair.”

If you find a tick, Thangamani encourages you to mail it to the Thangamani Lab so they can test it and track the ticks, and tell your doctor.

“If you pick the tick within 24-48 hours of tick attachment, your chance of getting the Lyme disease is least actually,” said Thangamani. “Viruses, on the other hand, they are transmitted right away.”

If you find a tick, click here to learn how to take the proper steps to mail it to:

Thangamani Lab
4209 Institute for Human Performance (IHP)
505 Irving Avenue
SUNY Center for Environmental Health and Medicine
SUNY Upstate Medical University
Syracuse NY 13210

Thangamani plans to keep accepting ticks, but the lab will be closed during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, so they won’t be able to receive or process ticks between:

Thanksgiving Holiday: November 25 to 29 
Christmas Holiday: December 15 to January 5

If you find a tick during those timeframes, Thangamani suggests you freeze them and mail them to the lab after January 6.

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For more local news follow Nicole Sommavilla on Twitter/NeSommavilla.

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