WCSU researchers see sharp increase in deer ticks – NewsTimes

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DANBURY — Researchers at Western Connecticut State University have seen the highest level of deer ticks — a common carrier of Lyme disease — since the college started field monitoring in 2011.

The college’s Tick-Borne Disease Prevention Laboratory has monitored deer tick populations on a weekly basis at sites in Danbury, Ridgefield and Newtown, from May through August, annually.

During the last week of May, researchers collected 359 deer ticks per hour, which is an average of the three sites. This represents a 303 percent increase from the same week last year, 57 percent more in a comparable week in 2015 and 1,022 percent more than in 2014.

“There are many factors that can affect the number of ticks we see each year,” said Dr. Neeta Connally, director of the lab and associate professor of biological and environmental studies at WCSU. “These include the abundance of tick hosts such as deer and white-footed mice, as well as climatic factors like the amount of rainfall in the spring.”

Tick numbers are on the rise across New England this spring. The region got a respite last year as the drought took a toll on ticks, whose numbers drop as the humidity falls below 85 percent. But the drought is largely gone from the region and ticks are taking advantage.

Among the infections commonly spread to humans by tick bites are Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, Powassan encephalitis and borreliosis.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 95 percent of the confirmed Lyme disease cases in 2015 were reported from 14 states, including all the New England states.

In 2016, there were 1,241 confirmed cases of Lyme in Connecticut and 511 more probable cases, according to data from the state Department of Public Health.

Last year, Connally received a $1.6 million grant from the CDC to conduct a four-year tick management project, which aims to combine findings from tick-control research with the study of human behaviors to find more effective strategies to combat the spread of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.

The study is a collaboration between WCSU, the CDC and co-principal investigator Dr. Thomas Mather, professor and director of the TickEncounter Resource Center at the University of Rhode Island. Field research has involved the collection of tick samples from the yards of homes in western Connecticut, as well as in southern Rhode Island.

“While we are seeing an especially high number of ticks this season, it’s important to remember that in our region, every year is a risky year for Lyme disease and other tick-associated infections,” Connally said. “Residents should always be vigilant in protecting themselves from tick bites.”

According to the CDC, typical Lyme symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migrans. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system.

Connally said some ways to prevent tick bites are to wear long pants and light-colored clothing, check all exposed skin thoroughly after spending time outdoors where ticks are present, bathe shortly after outdoor activity and dry clothes on high heat after outdoor wear.

She added that applying insect repellent or wearing permethrin-treated clothing also can help. She recommended pet owners discuss effective tick prevention measures with their veterinarians.