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Study finds ticks linked to Encephalitis in NYS

A recent study shows a link between a certain type of tick and a rare illness. The report shows the virus is on the rise in parts of the Hudson Valley and has spread to the Capital District. A disease ecologist in Dutchess County says there are more ticks carrying the virus on one side of the Hudson River versus the other.

Dr. Richard Ostfeld is a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook. He is one of the authors of a paper about ticks linked to encephalitis in New York State. Here’s why he and other scientists undertook the study.

Here’s what he says the study found.

The highest concentration of infected adult ticks – some 4-5 percent - was found in Westchester, Putnam, and Dutchess Counties. Ostfeld notes that the carrier – the black-legged tick - is the type of tick commonly, though incorrectly, referred to as the deer tick, and the same type that spreads Lyme disease. The Powassan virus is spread to people by infected ticks, and can cause central nervous system disruption, encephalitis, and meningitis. There is a 10-15 percent fatality rate in reported cases, with many survivors suffering long-term neurological damage.

Some lawmakers in New York are looking to protect long-term sufferers of Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases, like encephalitis. Among them is Democratic State Senator Terry Gipson, whose district – most of Dutchess County and part of Putnam – is considered a Lyme disease hotspot.

The legislation cosponsors in the senate include Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk and Independent Democrat David Carlucci. Democrat Kevin Cahill is sponsoring the bill in the Assembly. The TickBITE act requires health insurers to provide coverage for long-term medical care for Lyme disease and other tick borne related pathogens.

As for the greater occurrence of infected ticks on the east side of the Hudson River, Ostfeld can only speculate.

The study can be found in the journal Parasites and Vectors.

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