If there’s a single indicator that tick-borne diseases are of critical interest to Islanders, it was manifested by more than 100 people who came out on a rainy Thursday night to hear strategies to combat the illnesses.
The single most important message the audience at the Shelter Island School Auditorium heard at the town’s Deer & Tick Committee-sponsored forum was the necessity of culling the deer herd to a manageable level, according to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Wildlife Biologist Sue Booth-Binczik.
The other two speakers — Scott Campbell and Beau Payne — echoed similar messages. Mr. Campbell is Director of the Suffolk County Health Department’s Arthopod-Borne Disease Laboratory, Chairman of the Suffolk County Tick Control Advisory Committee and a member of the D &T Committee. Mr. Payne is Shelter Island’s Animal Control Officer.
One question from the audience was on the minds of other participants: Are tick-borne diseases posing a health emergency on the Island?
Mr. Campbell noted that a health emergency is a legal term. “But we consider it a very serious public health concern,” he said.
NEWS TO USE
Information residents need is that deer are not infecting ticks with pathogens that lead to disease, Ms. Booth-Binczik said. The pathogens are coming from rodents, but the ticks need a blood meal from the deer to continue their journey to then infect humans.
There are a number of products on the market to reduce the rodent population, but that alone won’t end the problem. Culling the herd to a manageable level is critical if tick-borne diseases are to be curbed, Ms. Booth-Binczik said.
She also noted there’s a combined effort for the DEC and State Department of Health to work together on research that could lead to vaccines. A Lyme disease vaccine, LIMErix, a SmithKline Beecham product, was marketed in the 1990s. But there were charges brought that it could be related to an increased incidence of Lyme arthritis. SmithKline, fearing lawsuits, opted to take LIMErix off the market rather than spend its time and money in court, despite the fact that it was never proven that the vaccine led to the arthritic condition.
HOW MANY DEER?
Mr. Payne estimated there are 100 deer per square mile on the Island and, at this point, the Deer & Tick Committee is hoping for a reduction of 30 deer per square mile, which would sharply reduce the incidence of Lyme and other diseases.
He spoke about the three-pronged approach the town has been using — deployment of 4-poster units that rub the tickicide permethrin on deer necks while the animals feed; culling the herd; and education.
The D & T Committee has spent more of its resources, including money from New York State, on the 4-posters this year than culling or education. It slightly ramped up its culling program with the addition of the Nuisance Wildlife Control Officers (NWCO) program that uses specially licensed hunters during the February and March so called “nuisance” hunt to increase deer taken.
The NWCO program is expected to be expanded on the Island in 2019, Mr. Payne said.
WHAT’S THE OBJECTIVE?
The animal control officer spoke about an Island deer and tick program that lacks defined management objectives. It must, he said, identify a way to measure the effectiveness of efforts on the impact on the rate of tick-borne diseases here.
He also mentioned “profound concerns” about the long-term use of permethrin in terms of ticks developing a resistance to the tickicide, but dismissed concerns about the substance affecting humans in the concentration in which it’s used. Permethrin-based repellents sprayed on clothing are effective and safe, Mr. Campbell said. They should just not be sprayed on skin. But he listed other repellents that can be sprayed on skin.
One questioner asked why the town isn’t deploying 60 4-poster units that were used when the Cornell University-Cornell Cooperative Extension pilot program was underway between 2008 and 2o10.
Some were redundant, with more than one unit at a site, Mr. Payne said, and The Nature Conservancy-owned Mashomack Preserve, which operates six units, had 20 deployed during the pilot program, so that was out of the town’s jurisdiction to increase the units.
Ms. Booth-Binczik repeated a mantra: “Don’t feed the deer,” while noting that’s what the Island is doing through its use of 4-posters.
There are many approaches to culling the herd, she said, including capturing and sterilizing females and, of course, killing them. Sterilization will help keep the herd from expanding rapidly, but hunters are needed if the herd is to be substantially reduced, Ms. Booth-Binczik said. In some communities, that means local hunters as it does here, but other communities have used professional sharpshooters.
A survey among Islanders last year revealed there is some interest in employing professional hunters, Mr. Payne said. But what’s essential is more private property opened to hunting, he noted, adding that areas of 10 acres or larger is the optimum choice
Mr. Campbell gave tips on avoiding bites:
• Don’t sit on the ground or even on a blanket on the ground.
• Wear tucked in shirts, long pants and two pairs of socks pulled over pants legs.
• Check yourself for ticks and place clothing in a hot dryer for 10 minutes. Washing machines won’t do the trick.
• Use repellents.
• If bitten and you have the tick, keep it because it can help a future diagnosis, and remove it with a pointed tweezer, not a flat one that can squeeze the ticks and result in more problems. Kits for removing ticks can be obtained free from Southampton Hospital by calling (631) 726-TICK (8425) or emailing Karen Wulffraat at [email protected]
The full forum was taped and will be available on Channel 22 and is also streaming on the Shelter Island Town website.