Expert says habitat, deer numbers key to limiting tick disease threat
Martha's Vineyard has the means and knows how to dramatically reduce a growing population of deer ticks, in order to protect future generations of Island residents and visitors. What it lacks is the will to do it, Professor Sam Telford told an interested group of listeners recently.
Mr. Telford, an associate professor of infectious diseases at the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine and a well-known tick researcher, discussed ticks at a forum sponsored by the Martha's Vineyard Hospital on July 16.
Several of those in the audience were familiar with the debilitating effects of tick-borne diseases.
Mr. Telford has been studying deer ticks for more than 25 years, much of that time on Nantucket and to a lesser extent on the Vineyard. He spoke with enthusiasm about the natural history of a creature that has defined his professional life and presents a growing worldwide risk of disease.
Mr. Telford told the group of more than 40 people who turned out for the Thursday night hospital-sponsored forum that he was not a physician and, "I am not here to scare you." But for anyone listening to the litany of diseases the deer tick can transmit there is plenty to be concerned about.
The smaller deer tick, the focus of the night's slide presentation, is responsible for infecting humans with Lyme disease, the most publicized of tick-borne illnesses, a malaria-like disease called babesiosis, also known as Nantucket fever, and ehrlichiosis (HGE), a disease related to Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
This spring medical researchers confirmed that the deer tick is also capable of causing deer tick virus encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) in humans.
The larger dog, or wood, tick carries Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a disease that was once more prevalent across New England and has now pretty much disappeared although researchers do not know why, Mr. Telford said. It also carries tularemia, a disease that continues to pose another medical mystery due to several outbreaks clustered on the Vineyard.
Focus on ticks
Mr. Telford also described the medical puzzle that first led researchers to focus on the Island's deer ticks.