State Lab Strained by High Number of Ticks Brought in for Testing

Officials have already warned that it’s a bad tick season, now the state testing lab says nearly 40 percent of tickets tested in recent weeks carry Lyme disease and the lab is experiencing a backlog.

The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters spoke with one family waiting to hear what kind of consequences their brush with one tick might have.

The Borensteins said they regularly monitor their children, but missed a tiny tick burrowed in their 4-year-old daughter’s ear.

"We had no idea what it was, but it was pretty horrifying, pretty gross to look at," Yanky Borenstein said.

The family thinks their daughter picked the tick up on a playground and that it probably fed on her blood for an entire weekend before it was discovered. They removed it with tweezers.

Borenstein brought the tick to the testing lab at the Agriculture Experiment Station in New Haven, where doctors test ticks to see if they carry Lyme or other diseases.

"We only test ticks that have blood fed and are engorged," Dr. Theodore Andreadis said.

Ticks are tested so people know if they need to be treated for various tick-transmitted diseases. Lyme disease, one of the most well-known, is a disease that, if left untreated, can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system. Typical symptoms are fever, headache, fatigue and a skin rash.

Andreadis said they’ve been overwhelmed by the number of ticks coming in to the facility for testing this year.

"It takes several hours just to open these envelopes, determine the species and engorgement status and find out how many will be tested. Routinely, we determine about 80-percent of these ticks needs testing and you can imagine if you receive 1000 of these ticks, we test 800 of them," explained Dr. Goudarz Molaei, a research scientist and director of the tick testing program.

The lab told the Borensteins that they’ll have to wait longer than the normal two to three day wait because of the backlog at the facility.

The agency is under a state-mandated hiring freeze and unable to fill a recent vacancy, which is contributing to the issue.

"We're hoping state officials will realize this is an important service we're contributing to the health and well-being of residents," Molaei said.

Andreadis said they need more people to keep up with all the tick testing.

"Some people/physicians are waiting to make a determination to treat. But we're doing best we can, to keep up," Andreadis said.

Andreadis said you need to check yourself very closely, because ticks will feed quickly on humans and pets alike.

Veterinarian Dr. Danielle Bresnan Furphy suggests using a lint roller on pets during a tick check.

"I always check behind their ears, behind their neck and really look around the collar bc that's where they like to go," Furphy said.

She also recommends flea and tick products.

"It's more important you protect your animals from the disease so you don't bring it in your house and infect yourself," she said.

Another lesser-known concern is the emerging viral disease Powassan virus, which is transmitted to humans by infected ticks. Powassan virus can cause long-term neurological problems and people with severe cases often require hospitalization, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

For more information on Lyme Disease, click here.

For more information on Powassan Virus, click here. 

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