Tick research: 4 neighborhoods selected for study

The four neighborhoods in town that will be part of a research project on an integrated and individual tick management program to reduce the risk of Lyme and other tick-borne disease have been selected. The project aims to determine what forms of tick control work best.

The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (CAES) announced in August that it has a Centers for Disease Control grant to do the research. The lead investigator at CAES is chief entomologist Dr. Kirby C. Stafford III.

According to Town Health Officer Doug Hartline, Dr. Stafford and his staff chose the neighborhoods — Drummer Lane, Blueberry Hill Road, White Birch Road, and Pheasant Ridge Road —after a review and a survey of the town. They picked the neighborhoods most conducive for the study, he said.

“Much has to do with the canopy of trees, shade, stone walls — places where ticks are more likely to be,” he said.

Letters were sent to people in each neighborhood explaining the program and what type of application it would receive, he said.

Not everyone in a neighborhood has to participate in the study, said Mr. Hartline. There have been some favorable responses, “but we would like to encourage more participants from these neighborhoods only,” he stressed. “This  is a limited study, not townwide.” Anyone from these neighborhoods interested in volunteering is asked to call his office at 203-938-2559.

Separate applications

“Each neighborhood gets a separate style of application for tick control,” said Mr. Hartline, except for the control neighborhood, which he identified as Drummer Lane.

At Drummer Lane, there will be tick drags, a method of collecting ticks to determine tick density in a given area, and the “catch and release of mice.” Mousetraps will be used to capture the mice. Then small blood samples will be taken, the mouse’s ear will be tagged and the mouse will be released.

Ticks become infected after feeding on mice and other small animals. Mr. Hartline said “the mouse is the key component of the tick-borne disease issue, and also the deer.” The ticks feed on the blood of large mammals, mostly deer, said Mr. Hartline, and this is where female ticks mate. Female ticks lay their eggs on the ground, he said, the reason for dragging fabric on the ground to gather ticks.

Tick drags and the catch and release of mice will take place every week in the designated neighborhoods from May through August. These are ways of determining if an application used in a neighborhood is impacting deer ticks in terms of their numbers in the area, said Mr. Hartline.

The applications

The Blueberry Hill Road neighborhood is slated to receive bait boxes (for mice), barberry bush removal, and tick spray — a homeowner on the road who participates in the study may choose a synthetic pyrethroid or a fungus spray for use on his or her property. There will also be tick drags and the catch and release of mice.

Mr. Hartline explained how the bait box is used. He said mice will go into it and be coated with Sipronil, which is basically the same agent that’s used in tick collars for pets, but at a lower dose. A nontoxic bait will be used to draw the mice into the boxes, which they can get out of on their own, he said.

On White Birch Road, all of the applications slated for Blueberry Hill Road will be used, and in addition to these, there will be deer reduction. It will be occurring within a square mile of the neighborhood, on the outer perimeter, said Mr. Hartline, adding the reduction would take place during the winter, “at the tail end of the hunting season.”

The fourth neighborhood in the study, Pheasant Ridge Road, is slated only for deer reduction within a square mile of the outer perimeter of the neighborhood. This neighborhood will also get tick drags and the catch and release of mice.

“Participating properties may not necessarily receive all tick control treatments,” said Mr. Hartline. “It depends on the funding and the number signing up for the study, but we’re still of the mind that the more who participate, the better.”

The CDC grant provides $300,000 each year for the three-year project period from Sept. 1, 2012, to Aug. 31, 2015.

‘Frustrating’

As the town’s health officer, Mr. Hartline said, it has been frustrating to try to make headway against tick-borne diseases. “We do the best we can to educate residents on tick-borne disease, the preventions and precautions people can take, and always wonder if this is effective, since tick-borne disease continues and we’re seeing more cases.”

He said Lyme disease was initially the reportable tick-borne disease — reported to the local health department by the state health department. But now the numbers have spread beyond Lyme disease to anaplasmosis, formerly known as ehrlichiosis, and babesiosis, he said. All three can be transmitted by the bite of a blacklegged or deer tick.

Mr. Hartline still considers the three tick-borne illnesses the No. 1 health issue in Redding. “It is frustrating when you hear of kids unable to attend school because of a tick-borne disease,” he said, “and likewise, when you hear of professionals who have to go on disability because of the disease and can’t work.

“We’re trying to get a handle on this. I sense this study could lead to a decrease in the numbers of tick-borne diseases in Redding and elsewhere,” Mr. Hartline said.

He said this study and the Lyme Disease Registry are both projects that “are helping to make some progress in the battle against tick-borne disease.”

Lyme Registry

The Lyme Disease Registry at 131 West Street in Danbury is operated by the Western Connecticut Health Network (Danbury and New Milford Hospital) Biomedical Research Institute. Its mission is Lyme disease research and to develop better diagnostic tools and treatment options, according to a press release.

The registry is looking for those ages 5 and older who have been diagnosed with Lyme disease by a health care provider. Participants are asked to answer questions pertaining to their Lyme disease (symptoms and associated treatment) and give a small blood sample, which will be used for testing related to Lyme disease research. After the initial visit, the registry will contact participants every six months by mail or email to complete a follow-up form.

Participation is free (no insurance billing) and no visit is necessary after the initial visit. All information provided will be kept strictly confidential. To participate, contact the registry at 203-739-8383 or by email: lyme.registry@danhosp.org.

Mr. Hartline encourages people to sign up with the registry. “It creates a database to help understand diagnosis and why sometimes the disease is less responsive to treatment and lasts longer,” he said.

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