Testing whether neighborhood interventions can prevent tick-borne diseases in our communities.
Expanding tick populations, climate change, and forest fragmentation are all expected to contribute to the continued spread of Lyme disease, which has emerged as one of our nation’s most complicated public health crises. In the Northeast, the blacklegged ticks that infect people with Lyme disease can also transmit babesiosis, anaplasmosis, and Borrelia miyamotoi. Co-infections are not uncommon.
Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose and treat; impacts on victims and their families are often profound. Treatment is also expensive: a recent Johns Hopkins study estimates that tick-borne illnesses cost the US healthcare system up to $1.3 billion annually. Despite human suffering and medical costs, funding for Lyme disease research and prevention remains inadequate.
While some aspects of Lyme disease treatment are controversial, there is universal agreement on the importance of disease prevention. No human vaccine is available. Prevention hinges on reducing encounters with infected ticks, which relies on a deep understanding of the ecology of Lyme disease.
Research conducted by the CDC found that spraying individual yards with pesticides did not reduce tick–borne illness and tick encounters. Our goal is to test a community-based prevention model that reduces human exposure to Lyme disease. This approach could revolutionize Lyme disease prevention.
This groundbreaking 5 year project is led by Cary Institute disease ecologist Dr. Richard Ostfeld and Bard College biologist Dr. Felicia Keesing, in partnership with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the New York State Department of Health, and the Dutchess County Department of Behavioral and Community Health.
The Tick Project is a study testing whether neighborhood-based prevention can reduce human exposure to Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases. The methods we are testing are simple and safe for people, pets, and the environment.
The study will determine whether two tick control interventions, used separately or together, can reduce the number of cases of Lyme disease at the neighborhood level. Interventions will target feeding and questing ticks, with a focus on reducing the number of ticks safely and economically.
Metarhizium brunneum (formerly M. anisopliae) is a tick-killing fungus that occurs naturally in
forest soils in North America. A strain of this fungus, F52, has been developed as the commercial
product, Met52. It can be sprayed on low vegetation where it kills host-seeking (“questing”)
The Tick Control System, or TCS®, is a small, baited 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 treated animals such as mice and chipmunks, which are largely responsible for infecting ticks with the Lyme bacterium.
The study’s outcome will allow us to recommend plans for preventing Lyme disease that could be immediately adopted by local municipalities, governments, community groups, or neighborhoods.
More details and FAQS can be found at www.tickproject.org.
The Tick Project is led by Rick Ostfeld and Felicia Keesing who have been studying Lyme disease and ways to stop it for more than 25 years. Credit: Stephen Reiss/NPR