Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses are becoming more common throughout Central New York. One congressional proposal, though, could help central New Yorkers understand the bugs in their own backyard.

"Some people don't even know what a tick looks like,” said Dr. Kris Paolino, infectious disease physician at SUNY Upstate. 

And that can be a dangerous problem.

"I didn't think there were ticks in my backyard. I didn't think it was a problem,” said Paolino. “Now I'm using DEET every time I'm out in the lawn. I've got three sets of lawn clothing that I have that are treated with permethrin."

Some lawmakers think education is key in the fight against tick-borne illnesses. In a press conference Monday, Congressman John Katko (R - NY24) unveiled the Tick Identification Pilot Program Act of 2019. If it passes, individuals will be able to send pictures of ticks they find to a biologist to identify them.

"I can look at it and go, 'oh, that's this tick; looks like it's been on for this many days; this is what you should look out for,’ ” said Brian Leydet, assistant professor at SUNY ESF.

The program would also mean more funding for tick research projects, like the Thangamani Lab at SUNY Upstate. If Katko's bill passes, the Thangamani Lab will be able to continue and expand its research.

The researchers need more ticks from central New Yorkers to test for diseases. They want you to continue to mail your ticks to the lab.

Put your ticks in a Ziploc bag with a piece of moist tissue/paper towel or grass and write these three things on a piece of paper:

  1. The date and location you found them
  2. If it came from a human or a pet
  3. Your email address

Then you can mail your envelope with the ticks and information to:

Thangamani Lab
4.209 Institute for Human Performance (IHP)
505 Irving Avenue
SUNY Center for Environmental Health and Medicine
SUNY Upstate Medical University
Syracuse, NY 13210

The most important thing is that the tick is alive, says Dr. Saravanan Thangamani, director of the SUNY Center for Environmental Health and Medicine.

"It's easy for us to identify if they're alive,” he said. “And it's easy for us to process them.”

Within about a week, the researchers will email you back and let you know if your ticks carry disease or not. However, the researchers say you should not use this as a diagnosis.