First Statewide CT Tick Study Finds Lyme Disease in Half of All Deer Ticks Collected

The study was funded by a one-year grant from the CDC.
By Siobhan McGirl • Published March 3, 2020 • Updated on March 5, 2020 at 10:05 am 


The CAES received a one year grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year to conduct a statewide surveillance program for ticks and tick borne diseases.
“I think the CDC’s concern is that they are seeing an increase in the number of the reported tick borne disease cases,” said Scott Williams, a scientist at the CAES. Williams called the data set that the surveillance effort provided “invaluable.”

According to its website, the CDC estimates about 300,000 people get Lyme disease each year. A large portion of the cases are found in New England.
The surveillance effort, which spanned spring summer and fall of 2019, allowed the team to get a better idea of what ticks are in the state, where they are and what percentage are infected.

According to the team at the CAES, the deer tick remains the most popular in Connecticut. Of the 2,500 ticks that were collected, 2,068 were deer ticks. Dog ticks made up 437 of the collection. They also identified two new emerging species in Connecticut. They found three lone star ticks in the sample size and, for the first time, recorded an Asian longhorned tick in New London County.

  • DEER TICK:  2,068
  • DOG TICK: 437

The highest average adult deer tick density was found in Fairfield County.

Once the field team, overseen by Williams, collected the ticks, they were studied in a lab at the CAES. The ticks were tested for five different disease-causing pathogens.

According to the data, 46 percent of all adult deer ticks collected (2,068) were infected with Lyme disease. The adult deer ticks also tested positive for babesiosis (13%), anaplasmosis (9%), hard tick relapsing fever (2%) and Powassan encephalitis (1%).

“You need to be vigilant about protecting yourself from the exposure to ticks,” said Doug Brackney, an associate scientist who oversees the team that tests the ticks.

Williams explained that not only are more deer ticks being found infected with Lyme disease, less prevalent tick-borne diseases are also on the rise.

“They are kind of following the same trajectory as the Lyme disease pathogen,” said Williams. “It is just advancing exponentially and we are seeing them creep up to the level of Lyme disease.”

The new species of tick, Asian longhorned, found in New London County is known to host more on livestock than people. The tick is known to carry a dangerous disease in Asia, however no cases have been detected in the U.S.

“There is always the risk as, again, with climate change and the population starts to expand that there is more likelihood that we could see infections,” said Brackney.

Brackney and Williams explained that because it has been a mild winter, the exposure time for tick borne illnesses has expanded.

“You are seeing increased survival through out the winter because it is so mild that you are seeing more of them make it through the winter,” said Williams.

The CAES is still waiting to receive funding from the CDC to continue surveillance efforts for this year. Williams said that the data is not meant to create fear, but to inform.

“It is only getting worse. If we can be there with our finger on the pulse and document that change, we can maybe see some responses to it by health departments, federal government or something to maybe respond to this in some fashion,” said Williams. “If nothing else, to document and educate the public on it.”

They encourage people living in Connecticut to have exposure to ticks on their minds at all times, not just during a hike. “There is always a risk,” said Brackney.

The CDC created a Lyme disease prevention checklist, which includes checking your body for ticks, wearing tick repellent clothing and creating a tick-free zone in your yard.

Prevent Lyme Disease

Before gardening, camping, hiking, or just playing outdoors, make preventing tick bites part of your plans.

Lyme disease is spread by the bite of an infected tick. In the United States, an estimated 300,000 infections occur each year. If you camp, hike, work, or play in wooded or grassy places, you could be bitten by an infected tick.

People living in or visiting New England, the mid-Atlantic states, and the upper Midwest are at greatest risk. Infected ticks can also be found in neighboring states and in some areas of Northern California, Oregon and Washington. But you and your family can prevent tick bites and reduce your risk of Lyme disease.

Protect Yourself from Tick Bites: Know where to expect ticks. Blacklegged ticks (the ticks that cause Lyme disease) live in moist and humid environments, particularly in and near wooded or grassy areas. You may get a tick on you during outdoor activities around your home or when walking through leaves and bushes. To avoid ticks, walk in the center of trails and avoid walking through tall bushes or other vegetation.

Repel ticks on skin and clothing. Use Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol, or 2-undecanone. EPA’s helpful search tool can help you find the product that best suits your needs. Always follow product instructions. Parents should apply this product to their children, avoiding hands, eyes, and mouth. Use products that contain permethrin on clothing. Treat clothing and gear, such as boots, pants, socks and tents with products containing 0.5% permethrin. It remains protective through several washings. Pre-treated clothing is available and may be protective longer.

  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an online tool to help you select the repellentexternal icon that is best for you and your family.
  • For detailed information about preventing ticks on pets and in your yard, see Lyme Disease Prevention and Control.
  • For detailed information for outdoor workers, see NIOSH Safety and Health Topic: Tick-borne Diseases.

Perform Daily Tick Checks: Check your body for ticks after being outdoors, even in your own yard. Search your entire body for ticks when you return from an area that may have ticks. Use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view all parts of your body and remove any tick you find. Take special care to check these parts of your body and your child’s body for ticks:

  • Under the arms
  • In and around the ears
  • Inside the belly button
  • Back of the knees
  • In and around all head and body hair
  • Between the legs
  • Around the waist

Check your clothing and pets for ticks because they may carry ticks into the house. Check clothes and pets carefully and remove any ticks that are found. Place clothes into a dryer on high heat to kill ticks.

Remove Attached Ticks Quickly and Correctly is attached to your skin for less than 24 hours, your chance of getting Lyme disease is extremely small; however, other diseases may be transmitted more quickly.

Over the next few weeks, watch for signs or symptoms of Lyme disease such as rash or fever. See a healthcare provider if you have signs or symptoms. For more information, see tick removal.

Be Alert for Fever or Rash: Even if you don’t remember being bitten by a tick, an unexpected summer fever or odd rash may be the first signs of Lyme disease, particularly if you’ve been in tick habitat. See your healthcare provider if you have symptoms.

Prevent Ticks on Animals: Prevent family pets from bringing ticks into the home by limiting their access to tick-infested areas and by using veterinarian-prescribed tick prevention products on your dog.

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