Deer Tick. Image Credit: WahooWins

Deer Ticks, Lyme, & Mice: An Inexpensive Solution For An Unlikely Vector

Staten Island has deer again. Some say the deer never left, but rather kept to themselves, living quietly on the Brookfield Landfill and in parts of the West Shore wilderness. As development, and the capping of the old dump commenced, the deer were driven into LaTourette and other parks across the island. Other deer were reportedly swimming across regularly. In any event, the Island now has a growing population of deer.

Deer Tick. Image Credit: WahooWins

Deer Tick. Image Credit: WahooWins

And deer bring ticks.

And ticks bring Lyme.

Lyme Disease (B. burgdorferi) is caused by a spirochete, just as syphilis and tuberculosis are. It’s a nasty, sometimes intractable disease that can cripple and derange those square in its path. While the very notion of a Staten Island full of deer is contentious, something we can all agree on is that Lyme Disease transmission has to be abated.

Mount Loretto, as well as Clay Pit State Park, have both had devices installed recently that lure deer with food, and manage to passively rub insecticide onto the deer as they eat. The end result is that deer feeding at the station will be swathed with insecticide, and those deer will consequently no longer carry ticks, the vector for the dreaded Lyme’s Disease.

Surely, the deer won’t mind. Deer can also fall ill with Lyme’s, and it’s no fun for them, either.

Deer. Image Credit: David Reid

Deer. Image Credit: David Reid

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Lyme Disease Vector Control pilot program is footing the bill for these devices, at a cost of $2,500 for each unit, with a cost of $570 per week to maintain. While it is unclear whether the State of New York will install additional units within Staten Island woodlands, there are other forests and natural areas maintained by the state, as well as Federal government, on our Island. So, we may see additional units, courtesy of the city, state, or Federal government,in the future.

But is there a cheaper way?

Supposedly, there is! Whether to supplement State efforts, or to replace the need for these high-upkeep, high-cost units, is to ignore the deer, altogether, and fight the ticks at another level: the field mouse. Our own borough President Oddo’s blog mentioned this rather clever means of eradicating ticks, way back in May of last year. In his posting, the device described applies Fipronil insecticide to the rodent, which will kill and/or repel  any ticks it’s carrying.

Surprisingly, mice are a vital vector in the life cycle of many ticks, including the black-legged tick and deer ticks. Apparently, there are rodent host carriers, populations in which Lyme is endemic, and thus themselves not adversely affected, upon which ticks feed and actually pick up the germ, a either larvae or nymphs.

Matarhizium Anisopliae (Met52) is a fungus, completely natural, which also kills ticks. This is being studied presently by The Tick Project, headed by Richard Ostfeld, Ph.D. in the Carey Institute of Ecosystem Studies project. Borough President Oddo met with this forward-thinking team to discuss this new option last yer, according to our Borough President’s blog.

In other regions, another, far less costly, yet possible as reliable, method of tick control has also been employed. It’s far cheaper, and can be done by anyone, anywhere. This method involves soaking cotton balls in Pyrethrum insecticide, nearly identical to the (relatively) safe chemical  the city sprays for mosquitoes every year in late summer.

This insecticide is available at garden centers, as well as online. While safer than some chemicals, pyrethroid-based insecticides must be handled with care, whether by a professional, a home gardener, or anyone, really. Pyrethroids are practically nontoxic to birds and fish, but can kill bees.

The cotton balls can be packed into an old cardboard paper toilet paper or (segmented) paper towel roll. (Re-use and recycle!) These insecticide-laced cotton ball-filled cardboard paper rolls can then be placed onto private properties, in woodlands, around fields, and anywhere, really, as rodents live in the ecosystems all around us.

The rolls can even be prepared and pre-packaged by the city for homeowners to place on their own properties, supplementing City efforts to place the rolls in the woods. By now, you’re likely wondering how this even works. It’s quite simple, actually. The rodents, field mice included, like to sleep on a soft bedding, much like you or I prefer a soft bed to a stone floor. And so, upon discovery of this wonderfully soft material, field mice covet the cotton and drag it into their dens.

Do the mice notice the correlation between their new, softer, odd-smelling bedding and the sudden cessation of nasty tick bites throughout the night? We can only guess, but if any conscious being with nerve endings were in a similar situation, how could they not?

In any event, if such an experiment were successful, our scientists would surely notice.  The number of ticks infected with Lyme would drop with time, if such a program were truly successful. It’s certainly worth exploring, as the cost of implementation is low, the materials readily available, and the results could be as good as, or better than, more expensive devices presently being investigated.

The good news is that something is being done about the spread of Lyme Disease. Having had friends and family members who had been bitten by ticks on Staten Island and subsequently fell ill with Lyme Disease,  the author of this article knows quite well the need for serious efforts to stem the infection rates of Lyme.

Whether methods to curb ticks involve deer or mice matters little. In fact, neither method requires its exclusive use. Possible,  a multi-pronged approach to the issue of deer ticks and Lyme Disease would synergize our best efforts and give results that are better than any one approach, on its own.

Any and all efforts to stop Lyme by our elected officials, universities, and researchers,  should be applauded. This is one of the most serious issues of our day, and is mostly ignored, in favor of other issues lending better sound bites. As Staten Islanders, we must know that Lyme creeps about, in the form of eight-legged arachnids, better known as ticks.

Please remember to check yourself,  and your family and pets, for ticks after going in the woods, to the park, or even in your yard, if you live near woodlands. You may need a loupe to see smaller ticks and nymphs.

by Archie Frank

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