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New website focuses on tick-borne diseases

Home page of the new Deer & Tick website at shelterislanddeerandtick.org.
Home page of the new Deer & Tick website at shelterislanddeerandtick.org.

A woman visiting Shelter Island last year contracted Lyme disease that has become a serious illness. She believes her condition could have been prevented if she had known about the tick infestation on the Island and the signs of tick bites, which might have prompted her to get medical treatment sooner.

Because she’s from New York City where the incidences of tick-borne diseases are rare, even when she sought medical attention, diagnosing her illness was a slow process. Doctors there checked a number of more common city illnesses before identifying Lyme disease. The result is that she’s is unable to work or care for her aging parents.

Not all who contract Lyme or other tick-borne diseases suffer such devastating consequences, but the Shelter Island Deer & Tick Committee agrees with the woman that more should be done to educate Islanders and visitors. Toward that end, the committee this month launched a new website at shelterislanddeerandtick.org.

Produced by committee member Jackie Black, the original color block design of the site is by Island artist Mike Zisser, and Louise Clark of Shelter Island Graphics is the webmaster.

“The Deer & Tick Committee hopes Islanders and visitors will learn what they need to know about the issues we all face, including the relationship between the overabundance of deer and the incidence of tick-borne illnesses,” Ms. Black said.

The multi-sectional site includes information on incidences of the diseases, how to protect against tick bites, what to do if bitten and why the committee is using both deer culls and 4-poster units to attack the problem.

In a column that appeared in the Reporter several years ago and is available on the new site, the late Patricia Shillingburg, who had headed the Deer & Tick Committee, reminded the public why Shelter Island had agreed to use 4-poster units — feeding stands that brush deer with the tickicide permethrin.

She argued in favor of using the units, noting there was no danger in eating deer meat if the animals had their necks rubbed with permethrin. If the animals swam in waters around the Island, not enough of the permethrin would be washed off to affect water quality, she wrote.

Referring to the need to take action, Ms. Shillingburg wrote: “It is about very nasty diseases carried by ticks, which are infecting many people on our Island.”

A similar column written in 2005 by Dr. William Zitek, a former Deer & Tick Committee member and a veterinarian, makes a similar case for use of 4-poster units.

Deer & Tick Committee member Marc Wein has more recently called for Cornell University and Cornell Cooperative Extension, the organizations that first brought the units to the Island, to look at long-term effects of permethrin.

Whatever the outcome of that argument, the website presents a wide array of information about tick-borne diseases and what is being done to try to eradicate them.