LYME DISEASE EXPERT PREDICTS
HEAVY DEER-TICK INFESTATION
Many local families already long affected
Kirby C. Stafford, III, PhD., Chief Scientist at the state’s Department of Forestry & Horticulture gave a presentation to the Darien Senior Men’s Association on March 31st, and predicted a rise in the infestation of deer ticks this season. His studies since 1987 have focused on the black-legged tick, commonly known as the deer tick, which is scientifically linked to the Lyme disease so prevalent in Connecticut, and so devastating to many families. The disease was first named after Lyme, CT, where young mothers questioned a curious pattern of illnesses first diagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis.
If not diagnosed and treated early after infection, the disease may lead to chronic, long-term illness characterized by arthritic joints, damage to the heart, brain, and nervous system, facial stiffness, and pain. Those active out of doors are most susceptible. This indicates why children 5 to 9 are most at risk for Lyme disease followed by those 10-14, and then adults 50-60 years old. Gardeners, and yard workers are especially at risk (an independent phone survey by the University of Conn. among New Canaan adults revealed that 45% had contracted Lyme disease).
In 2002, Dr. Stafford said 4,631 Lyme disease cases were reported in the state. In recent years ¼ to 1/3 of the state total comes from Fairfield County. Worse yet, he estimates that only 10-16% of the total cases are even diagnosed and reported. He linked today’s proliferation of deer in our midst to the increased availability of woodland borders much favored for foraging. This is a result of extensive housing development here.
He outlined several measures of protection from Lyme disease which may reduce exposure where applied. However, Dr. Stafford acknowledged that such efforts would have no effect on the exponential growth of the deer population here, hence will not reduce dangerous road collisions with deer, nor reduce the decimation of gardens and woodlands by foraging deer. (The Department of Environmental Protection continues to advise the local deer committees that the only viable method of control is through seasonal hunting.)
While the deer tick season extends virtually all year, it has two major peaks. The first and most dangerous period extends through May and June when the nymphal stage of the tick is active, which feeds principally on the white-footed mouse and chipmunks.
The second peak occurs in the Fall when the adult females are most apt to become engorged on the blood from large mammals, principally deer, necessary to complete their life cycle. Humans may contract Lyme disease from either stage. Far less frequently, such tick bites may lead to other infections like human babesiosis and ehrlichiosis. The dangerous West Nile virus comes from moquitoes and accounted for just 17 human cases in the state in 2002.
Dogs may get Lyme disease from deer ticks, too, and become debilitated. At the same time, dogs that run free are also apt to get common dog ticks. These are larger and similar looking to deer ticks, but to not transmit Lyme bacteria. Dog ticks may be distinguished by a whitish spot behind their heads.
All ticks should be removed with tweezers. They may be taken to the town Health Department for testing. Historically, about one in five ticks brought in test positive for Lyme disease. If an infected tick is removed within 48 hours after attachment, there is a 12% chance of infection. In 96 hours, this rises to a 94% chance.
Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics. Early treatment can prevent more severe, and at times chronic later symptoms. Since the tell-tale red rashes do not always show up, other ways to suspect Lyme disease include the appearance of flu symptoms, fatigue, aches, and joint stiffness. Bloods tests usually identify established cases of it. The preventative Lyme vaccine, originally demonstrated to be 78% effective, became controversial and is no longer marketed.
Exposure to deer ticks may be greatly reduced by protective clothing, deer fencing, plus avoiding wooded areas and edges of lawns. Experimental bait boxes may be placed by local professionals at lawn edges to reduce ticks on the mouse population. Wood chips around the edges also create a partial barrier. Dr. Stafford also advises keeping swing sets well away from lawn edges and stone walls, and removing litter. He showed illustrations of the “four-poster” device, also now being tested in the state. By this method, insecticide is placed on pairs of vertical rollers in front of corn trays. When hungry deer poke their heads between the posts, they get enough insecticide on their necks to kill feeding ticks.
Those seeking more information may try the state website for this: www.caes.state.ct.us.
CONTACT: Kent Haydock, SMA Program Chair, 655-7371 April 2, 2004