West Conn laboratory reports sharply higher levels of deer ticks in region

The tick-borne disease prevention laboratory at Western Connecticut State University has reported that its weekly sampling for deer ticks — a common carrier of Lyme disease and other illnesses — has reached the highest population level recorded since the first year that the WCSU lab initiated field monitoring of area sites in 2011.

Dr. Neeta Connally, director of the lab and associate professor of biological and environmental studies at WCSU, observed that weekly samples taken since the beginning of May this year have consistently shown increased levels of the black-legged tick, commonly called the deer tick, in the nymphal stage compared with surveys conducted for similar periods from 2012 through 2016. The Western lab has maintained monitoring of deer tick populations on a weekly basis at sites in Danbury, Ridgefield and Newtown from May through August every year since 2011. Conally noted that deer tick numbers in 2017 field samples to date are running close to the totals reported in 2011.

During the last week of May, field samples collected on average 303 percent more nymphal deer ticks than in the same week in 2016, and 57 percent more than in 2015. Over a longer timeframe, the record deer tick numbers in the final week of May showed a dramatic surge of 1,021 percent from the comparable week in 2014.

“There are many factors that can affect the number of ticks we see each year,” Connally said. “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.

“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,” she added. “Residents should always be vigilant in protecting themselves from tick bites. Some ways for people to prevent encounters with ticks 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.”

Connally said that application of insect repellent or wearing of permethrin-treated clothing also can help to prevent tick bites. She recommended that pet owners should discuss effective tick prevention measures with their veterinarians.

In 2016, Connally received a $1.6 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control to conduct a four-year integrated tick management project that aims to combine findings from tick control research with study of human behaviors to produce more effective strategies to combat the spread of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.

The study is a collaborative effort 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.

For information, contact Connally by email at connallyn@wcsu.edu or the Office of University Relations at (203) 837-8486.