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Senator Jack Reed (right) examines a tick on a sheet held by Nathan Miller from the URI program for tick control research during a demonstration in South Kingstown on Monday, June 14.

Tick researcher launches Lyme disease prevention program

University of Rhode Island tick researchers Thomas Mather and Nathan Miller know what it takes to reduce the incidence of Lyme disease in the region, and Mather has been telling people how for more than a decade. But according to state and federal statistics, disease incidence rates continue to increase.

So the URI researchers plan changed their tactics. With the help of a $223,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and an additional federal appropriation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Mather and Miller are took their show on the road.

Beginning in May, these tick experts led a series of community-based workshops in high-risk neighborhoods to demonstrate tick control strategies, including perimeter spraying of pesticides, landscape management, and targeted treatments on tick hosts.

“We’ve told people before what they need to do to control ticks in their yards, but few seem to have followed our recommendations,” said Mather, a professor of entomology and director of the URI Center for Vector-Borne Disease. “What we haven’t done before is to actually demonstrate these control strategies.”

In addition, trained vendors who provide tick control services were also in attendance at the workshops to answer questions.

“People don’t seem to know who to call to get this work done,” Mather said. “But if we tell them exactly who to call and have that person on hand at the workshop, I bet they’ll make the call when the time comes.”

Step one of their program was to conduct a survey of area residents to learn more about their Lyme disease prevention attitudes and current tick control practices. The survey was followed in late

May and June with at least five neighborhood workshops.

The third step is a community-wide test of a new system for reducing tick populations by killing the ticks on their deer hosts. That system will be tested throughout the town of Narragansett beginning in the fall.

“There seems to be no end to researching tick-borne diseases, but we believe it is time to begin taking aggressive action

to kill ticks and reduce the risk of infection,” said Mather. “We see our role as facilitators in the process, empowering homeowners at risk with knowledge and contacts they will need to take control of their own tick problem.”

This prevention program is aimed to do just that. Mather added that he hopes this initiative will result in the creation of an Office of Community Tick Control Research at URI to continue this effort.

By Todd McLeish

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