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Uptick In Lyme Disease Cases Has Suffolk County Looking For Answers

HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) -- Suffolk County has an alarming rate of Lyme disease infections. Politicians, health officials and parents have joined forces to try to stop the disease from spreading.

Dr. James Tomarken, Suffolk County's health commissioner, told CBS 2's Jennifer McLogan that residents should be concerned. He said there are five strains of ticks on Long Island -- and each can be deadly. And the problem is actually much worse than the statistics indicate, Tomarken said.

"The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) gets 30,000 cases of Lyme disease reported to them annually," Tomarken said. "They are estimating it is really 300,000, so it is 10 times factor."

Calling the situation a public health threat, Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman said he wants to mandate Suffolk's Vector Control agency be expanded to battle both mosquitoes and ticks.

"We have an epidemic of Lyme disease in Suffolk County, particularly on the east end," Schneiderman said.

There were 690 reported cases of the tick-borne Lyme disease last year, compared to just seven cases of West Nile disease, caused by mosquito bites.

"West Nile is a serious illness," Schneiderman said. "It can be very debiliating as well. But you are about 300 times more likely to get Lyme disease than West Nile."

Lyme disease can result in a wide range of symptoms -- from a rash to serious neurological problems or heart conditions.

A tick-control bill in the Suffolk County Legislature calls for culling deer herds, expanding the hunting of and possibly sterilizing deer, improving rodent control, mowing roadsides and clearing trails. The county would also begin controlled burns of woods with ticks and the immunization and education of residents.

The Legislature is set to vote on the measure as soon as next week.

Meanwhile, Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both New York Democrats, are also pushing the CDC to study tick-borne diseases and use Suffolk as the national research and testing site.

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