June 16, 2011 – As the weather warms up and New Yorkers are increasingly spending more time outdoors, the Health Department reminds city residents to protect themselves from pests and animals that could carry disease.
“While we encourage New Yorkers to enjoy the city’s great parks, beaches, and other recreational areas, there are simple precautions they can take to minimize their risk of illness from insect and animal bites,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas A. Farley. Wearing socks, and long pants and shirts while in the woods, using insect repellent in areas with ticks and mosquitos and staying away from wild, stray and unfamiliar animals will prevent exposures that could cause illness.
Each year, hundreds of New Yorkers are infected with tick-borne diseases. While Lyme disease is the most commonly reported, several cases of babesiosis, anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever also occur each year. Most New Yorkers become infected with tick-borne diseases while traveling to endemic areas outside of the city, such as the Hudson Valley, Long Island, New Jersey and Connecticut. The tick that transmits these diseases, the blacklegged or deer tick has been found in New York City, but not in great numbers. Blacklegged ticks collected from Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx and Clay Pit Pond Park on Staten Island recently tested positive for the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. The tick that transmits Rocky Mountain spotted fever has been found in all five boroughs.
The mosquito is another insect that can spread disease. In NYC, some mosquitoes may carry and spread West Nile virus. While not everyone infected with West Nile virus will become sick, people over 50 years of age who may have other health conditions may develop severe illness. The mosquitoes primarily responsible for the spread of the virus in New York City breed in areas with standing water and are most active from dusk through dawn. Now is the time when mosquitoes are starting to breed, laying hundreds of eggs in containers of standing water, so keeping your property standing-water free is important.
Finally, the Health Department is reminding New Yorkers to be cautious of wild, stray and unfamiliar animals. Each year, rabid animals are reported in the city, mostly raccoons, skunks and bats. Rabies is a viral disease that can be transmitted to people and pets, most often through the bite of a rabid animal. If a person is bitten or otherwise exposed, prompt treatment can prevent infection, but if left untreated, rabies may become fatal. Pets that are exposed, but not currently vaccinated against rabies, must be isolated for six months in a veterinary facility at the owner’s expense or be euthanized.
For more information about these topics, visit our website at www.nyc.gov/health.
Below are some tips for protecting yourself and your family this summer.
To prevent tick bites and tick-borne illness:
- Avoid walking in heavily wooded areas; try to stick to cleared paths.
- Apply an approved insect repellent that contains DEET (use according to manufacturer’s instructions). Other repellents such as picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus – also used to prevent mosquito bites – may provide some protection, but there is limited information about their effectiveness against ticks.
- People working or spending significant time in the woods may choose to apply permethrin to their pants, socks or shoes. However, permethrin should never be applied directly to the skin.
- Wearing light-colored shirts allows you to see ticks better and long-sleeved shirts and tucked in pants and socks may prevent ticks from making contact with your body.
- Check for ticks on you or your or clothing soon after returning from wooded or grassy areas. Some ticks are very small (about the size of a poppy seed), so ask for help to inspect areas that you cannot see yourself. Getting the tick off soon after it attaches is very effective in preventing infection.
- Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors, preferably within two hours.
- Speak to your veterinarian about tick prevention products for your pet dogs and cats.
- To remove a tick, use tweezers to grasp the body of the tick as close to the surface of your skin as possible and pull the tick with slow, even pressure. Avoid squeezing or crushing the tick’s body. After the tick is removed, wash the bite area thoroughly with soap and water to help reduce the chance of infection. Matches, petroleum jelly or other home remedies are not effective in removing ticks.
- If you develop a rash or a fever after being outdoors in wooded or grassy areas, let your doctor know you may have been exposed to ticks, even if you don’t remember having a tick bite.
To prevent West Nile virus:
- Eliminate any standing water from your property; routinely empty or dispose of tires, cans, pots or similar containers that can collect water. Standing water is a violation of the NYC Health Code. You can report standing water by calling 311 or visiting www.nyc.gov.
- Make sure windows have screens, and repair or replace screens that have tears or holes.
- Make sure gutters are clean and properly draining.
- Clean and chlorinate swimming pools, outdoor saunas and hot tubs. Keep them empty and covered if not in use; drain water that collects in covers.
- Use an approved insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus (not for children under three years of age), or products that contain the active ingredient IR3535.
- Take special care to cover up the arms and legs of children and the elderly while outdoors. Consider using mosquito netting or a screened tent for a baby carriage or playpen.
Stay safely away from wild, stray and unfamiliar animals.
To protect against rabies from stray or wild animals:
- Enjoy wildlife from a distance; don’t touch or feed wild animals or stray dogs or cats.
- Keep garbage in tightly sealed containers.
- Stay away from any animal that is behaving aggressively or a wild animal that appears ill or is acting unusually friendly. Call 311 or your local precinct to report the animal.
- If you find a bat indoors that may have had contact with someone, don’t release it. First call 311 to determine whether it should be tested.
To protect your pet against rabies:
- Contact your veterinarian to ensure your dog or cat is up-to-date on rabies vaccinations.
- Don’t leave your pets outdoors unattended and keep their food indoors.
- Don’t try to separate animals that are fighting.
- If your pet has been in contact with an animal that might be rabid, contact your veterinarian, and report the incident to 311.
If you are bitten by an animal:
- Immediately wash the wound with lots of soap and water.
- Seek medical care from your health care provider.
- If you know where the animal is, call 311 to have it captured.
- If the animal is a pet, get the owner’s name, address and telephone number to give to the Health Department for follow-up with owner on pet’s health status to rule out rabies.
- Call the Animal Bite Unit (212-676-2483) between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., or file a report online at www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/diseases/vetegp.shtml.
- For information about medical follow-up, call 311 or your medical provider.