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Shelter From ‘Perfect Storm’ of Ticks

Thu, 08/10/2023 - 09:58
Among the clinicians staffing the new Regional Tick-Borne Disease Center in Hampton Bays are, from left, Dr. Sandeep Gandhi, an infectious-disease physician, Rebecca Young, a nurse who answers the tick helpline, and Dr. Anna-Marie Wellins of Meeting House Lane Medical.
Stony Brook Medicine

With its new Regional Tick-Borne Disease Center in Hampton Bays officially opening on Monday, Stony Brook Southampton Hospital is hoping to stave off what seems to be a growing epidemic of tick-borne illnesses. 

Just last month, the Centers for Disease Control announced that as many as 450,000 Americans have alpha-gal syndrome, which is caused by a bite from an infected lone star tick and makes a person allergic to red meat. And Suffolk County, the C.D.C. says, has one of the highest concentrations of alpha-gal cases in the nation. 

As for the better-known Lyme disease, which results from a bite by an infected deer tick, the number of people being treated for Lyme between 2010 and 2018 is estimated to have risen from 300,000 cases per year to 476,000 per year based on insurance claim data. 

“It’s the perfect storm,” said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. “Tick populations have increased . . . this summer in particular, we are seeing cases every single day, and this is just for pediatrics. I imagine our adult colleagues are seeing the same thing.” 

Dr. Nachman is among the doctors who will see patients at the new TickBorne Disease Center, which will be staffed by clinicians from both Stony Brook Southampton and the main Stony Brook University Hospital campus, as well as the Meetinghouse Lane Medical Practice. Thought to be the first such facility in the Northeast, it will offer tick removal and identification, disease diagnosis, counseling on tick-bite prevention, free tick-removal kits and reference information, and, potentially, access to long-term monitoring through Stony Brook Medicine’s research program. 

There are many unanswered questions about tick-borne illnesses, Dr. Nachman said. “This kind of center, in the place where the ticks are and where the population is, is an unbelievable opportunity for everyone to work together and address these questions.” 

Located in the Atrium, a condominium complex of medical offices on Flanders Road in Hampton Bays, the facility will also serve as a new home base for Stony Brook Southampton’s tick hotline — accessible at 631-726TICK (8425). The hotline’s “patient navigator” nurse, Rebecca Young, has fielded more than 5,500 calls since it was established in 2015. 

Brian Kelly of North Sea, the founder and owner of East End Tick and Mosquito, owns the physical office space and has donated a 10-year lease on it to the center. Mr. Kelly said this week that the success of his company enables him to give back, and that supporting access to tick-borne disease care and prevention was a meaningful cause. 

“I’ve been in the tick-control business since 1997,” Mr. Kelly said. “I’ve seen it firsthand over the years that many, many people, including children
— mostly children, actually — have been affected by tick bites. I have many friends currently battling tick-borne diseases, and alpha-gal happens to be up there.” 

He predicted that the new regional center “will grow out of this clinic quickly” because of the increased prevalence of ticks. 

“It’s really, really needed,” he said. 

He agrees with Dr. Nachman that too few people are getting the message about the dangers of tick bites and how to prevent them. 

“So many people are getting sick all over the U.S.,” Mr. Kelly said. “I just hope people take it seriously. You can’t get a tick-borne disease if you’re not bitten in the first place, so I believe prevention is key right now.” 

Dr. Nachman wants to “remind people that the ticks that feed on humans, the nymph ticks, are so small that unless you are aggressively looking on your body every day, you might miss them. Most of us can’t look at our own backs or the backs of our legs so easily.” 

In addition to the space Mr. Kelly donated, the new facility “is funded exclusively through charitable gifts, with major support coming from The Island Outreach Foundation,” Stony Brook said in an announcement. 

Appointments for adults can be made by calling 631-725-2112. The phone number for pediatric appointments is 631-444-KIDS (5437). The center accepts most insurance plans and offers self-pay rates. Its website is 

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