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The Tick Project [Research]

Lead Scientist(s): Dr Richard S Ostfeld

The Tick Project was a five-year study to determine whether neighborhood-based prevention can reduce human cases of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. The methods we are testing are simple and safe for people, pets, and the environment.

The study took place in Dutchess County, New York, which is home to some of the nation۪s highest rates of Lyme disease incidence. We Residents of twenty-four neighborhoods were recruited to participate in the project. Each neighborhood consisted of 6-10 square blocks and roughly 100 properties.

The study tested whether two tick control methods, used separately or together, can reduce the number of cases of Lyme disease at the neighborhood level.

The Tick Control System™, or TCS , is a small box that attracts small mammals. When an animal enters the box, it receives a small dose of fipronil, the active ingredient in many tick treatments used on dogs and cats. Fipronil kills ticks on animals like mice and chipmunks, which are largely responsible for infecting ticks with the Lyme bacterium.

Metarhizium anisopliae is a fungus that occurs naturally in forest soils in eastern North America. It has been shown to kill ticks. A strain of this fungus, Met52, has been developed as a commercial product. It can be sprayed on vegetation where it kills ticks looking for hosts on which to feed.

The Results

What was found

The TCS bait boxes reduced the number of ticks in people’s yards by about half. There was no reduction in tick numbers from the Met52 fungal spray.

Most importantly, though, the incidence of tick-borne diseases in people was not affected by either the TCS boxes or the Met52 spray. People’s encounters with ticks were also not reduced by the boxes or the spray.

If you have a pet, the good news is that the incidence of tick-borne diseases in pets was lower by about half on properties that were treated with either the boxes or the spray, or both.

What it means

It is not known why there was no difference in the incidence of tick-borne diseases in people when the number of ticks in yards was lower, but there are a few hypotheses.

It could be that having even a fairly small number of ticks in your yard is enough for you and your family members to have a risk of getting a tick-borne disease. The bait boxes and spray might not have gotten tick numbers below this level, even with rigorous application of these products.

Another possibility is that people in the study got infected from ticks they encountered in places other than their yards or neighborhoods. If this is the case, efforts to reduce ticks in yards might have helped pets – which often spend a lot of time in yards – more than they helped people. Unfortunately, it is not known where people – or pets -- most frequently encounter ticks.

Because of the results, reducing the incidence of tick-borne diseases in people might be quite difficult to achieve by managing ticks in neighborhoods or individual yards. The best strategy going forward may be to develop vaccinations against the diseases, or against the ticks themselves.

How you can learn more about the results

The paper describing the results is available from the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

Keesing F, Mowry S, Bremer W, Duerr S, Evans AS, Fischhoff IR, et al. Effects of Tick-Control Interventions on Tick Abundance, Human Encounters with Ticks, and Incidence of Tickborne Diseases in Residential Neighborhoods, New York, USA. Emerg Infect Dis. 2022;28(5):957-966. https://doi.org/10.3201/eid2805.211146

To learn more, visit: www.tickproject.org