The rising numbers of Lyme disease-causing ticks can’t be blamed on the high density of deer alone, according to recent news. Although in the last decade, there has been an increase in Lyme disease cases, it is not due to greater deer populations.
The research project TickDeer found that tick populations with the Lyme disease bacteria are actually decreasing in the areas of rising deer populations. Still, total number of ticks is higher and the risk of catching borreliosis (Lyme disease) is still there. In fact, a Norwegian study has found increases in borreliosis cases in areas where deer and moose populations have decreased.
Ticks can only become infected in the second and third parts of their life stage, meaning, they need to latch on to a bigger host – mainly a deer – for breeding and reproducing.
Previous report suggests fewer deer means less Lyme disease
An alternative study suggested that a smaller deer population could translate into fewer cases of Lyme disease. Deer are the host for the black-legged deer ticks.
The 13-year-long study found that smaller deer populations reduced the number of Lyme disease cases in Connecticut. The researchers surveyed 90 to 98 percent of Connecticut permanent residents, documenting their exposure to tick-related diseases along with the abundance of deer. The study found that the end of the hunting season marked a significant reduction in deer population along with a drop in Lyme disease cases.
Reported Lyme disease cases were strongly associated with deer population, with reducing deer population to 5.1 deer per square kilometer was associated with a 76 percent decrease in tick abundance.
The authors wrote, “We found that reducing deer density by [at least] 87 percent resulted in a significant reduction in tick abundance, nearly a 50 percent reduction in tick infection rate, and an 80 percent reduction in resident-reported human cases of Lyme disease. Our study demonstrated that deer populations can be manipulated to reduce human interactions with deer, infected nymphal ticks, and human risk of contracting Lyme disease.”
“Reducing deer populations to levels that reduce the potential for ticks to successfully breed should be an important component of any long-term strategy seeking to reduce the risk of people contracting Lyme disease. Additionally, good hunter access to deer habitat and a wide variety of management tools (bait, unlimited tags, incentive programs) are important components of a successful deer reduction strategy,” the authors concluded.
Reducing tick bites: Tips to prevent Lyme disease
To lower the risk of Lyme disease, it’s important to limit your exposure to ticks and put forward some effective preventative methods. Here are some tips for lowering your risk:
- Protect your ankles: Wear long pants tucked into high socks when doing yard work. Wrap duct tape – sticky side out – around where the pants and socks meet so that crawling ticks get stuck on the tape.
- Treat your gear: Treat your clothing, tents, and other gear with repellent, such as permethrin. It kills ticks, mosquitoes, chiggers, and mites. You can find such products online or at sporting goods stores.
- Wear repellent: Apply topical insect repellent that contains less than 40 percent DEET. Children should use repellent that contains no more than 30 percent DEET.
- Conduct tick checks: Tick bites are usually painless, so you may not notice you have been bitten. That’s why, if you are in an area that is a potential tick habitat, thoroughly check yourself for ticks from time to time, and if you spot one, get rid of it immediately.
- Check your pets:Anti-tick treatments and flea collars protect pets from tick bites, thanks to the neurotransmitter blockers. When your pet comes home after being outside, check for any crawling ticks.
- Create a tick-free zone: You can make your yard less attractive to rodents and other tick carriers. Keeping lawns trimmed and creating barriers between your yard and the woods with wood chips, mulch, or gravel can eliminate tall grasses where ticks crawl. Remove wood piles and stones where mice, chipmunks, and squirrels may hide.
- Hike carefully: Stay in the center of hiking trails to avoid contact with vegetation.
Even if you have tried your best to avoid a tick from latching on, it can still happen, so removing the tick as soon as you spot it also lowers your risk of Lyme disease – but there is a right and wrong way to do it.
For starters, don’t try to burn the tick off, as it can cause bacteria to be released, leading to infection. The best way to remove a tick is by using tweezers or thin forceps. If the tick is intact, you can bring it to your doctor for identification.
Early signs of a tick-borne illness include fever and chills, headache, fatigue, muscle aches, and, in some cases, a bull’s eye rash, but these symptoms aren’t universal.