Also on the rise, though still exceedingly rare, is the terrifying Powassan virus, which can cause encephalitis, meningitis and other serious conditions; without vaccine or treatment, about 10 percent of patients who become symptomatic die. In April, a Maine resident died of Powassan, one of the few such deaths nationwide in the past decade; Connecticut also recently reported the death of a woman in her 90s who was hospitalized in early May with “fever, altered mental status, headache, chills, shivering, chest pain and nausea” and died about two weeks later.
All this has made the work of tick hunters like Mr. Leydet more urgent, with teams of state officials, scientists and volunteers heading for locations where ticks thrive: meadows and tall grasses, the edges of forests and trails, and even some parts of suburbs. .
They’re not hard to find: Mr. Leydet says he can find dozens on an hour-long search near his home and workplace, ranging from tiny larvae to pea-sized adults.
“They literally crawl into everyone’s backyard,” said Mr. Leydet, noting that once ticks have established themselves in an area, they are “almost impossible to remove.”
Sunny, dry days are best for hunting; a lack of wind is also a plus. Mr. Leydet’s process – known as “drag and flags” – is the same as many of his colleagues: he pulls his white flag behind him, mile after mile of tick-infested territory, though he says he has his favorite spots, which he calls “honey holes” where he knows ticks can be found.
“It’s a weird hobby,” he said.
During a recent safari, Mr. Leydet a rugged patch of woods in suburban Fayetteville, NY, east of Syracuse, to search and capture, using two plastic vials, one for each gender. (Females and males should be separated to avoid mating and death by mating, as males typically die after such excesses.)