Newsmaker series continues with tick expert on cutting pest's numbers
On Monday evening, Sam Telford, associate professor of infectious diseases at the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine and a well-known tick researcher, will speak about the steps Island land managers and policy makers could take to reduce the number of deer ticks in order to reduce the risk of disease for future generations of Islanders.
Mr. Telford will describe the links between ticks, tick-borne diseases, and the Vineyard's natural habitat. The talk at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury will start at 6:30 pm, and the public is invited to attend.
In recent years, news reports have described the growing threat that diseases carried and transmitted by deer ticks pose to year-round and seasonal residents of Martha's Vineyard and their visitors.
The deer tick 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.
Last spring the new Journal of Medicine reported on the first confirmed case of deer tick-borne encephalitis (June 4, "Rare deer tick virus identified as cause of death") in humans. The story was linked to earlier research by Mr. Telford and underscored the serious public health risks that deer ticks could pose to people who enjoy the outdoors now and in the future.
A generation ago the deer tick was uncommon on Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. The growth of the islands' deer population and changes in land management has created ideal conditions for deer ticks.
Massachusetts reported 3,960 confirmed cases of Lyme disease in 2008, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That is a roughly 33 percent increase from 2007, when 2,988 cases were reported, according to the State House News Service report Tuesday. The increase catapulted Massachusetts to second among U.S. states in the number of cases reported.
However, many cases are never recorded because patients are treated outside the state.
Nantucket has been one of the epicenters of tick-borne illnesses. In reaction, Nantucket selectmen have appointed a committee to look at ways to address the problem in a comprehensive and long-term manner.
"The summer of 2008 we had some very substantial numbers coming in with regard to tick-borne diseases," Richard Ray, Nantucket health department director, told The Times in a telephone interview Monday.
Mr. Ray said Nantucket is looking at a multi-pronged community approach that combines deer reduction with habitat management, such as removing scrub brush, and methods of delivering insecticides that kill ticks, such as Damminix tick tubes that target the ticks on mice.
Mr. Ray said there is no question that the number of people contracting tick-borne infections on Nantucket has increased year after year. He said conservation organizations own approximately half of Nantucket and allow some form of deer hunting.
"What we need to get on board here," Mr. Ray said, "are seasonal visitors who keep their homes locked up for the winter and yet keep their properties posted so that people can't hunt them."
Mr. Ray said that this spring his department would begin a vigorous public education campaign directed at property owners that focuses on what they can do to help reduce deer and deer ticks. "We do not expect to see a reduction in tick-borne disease for at least three to four years," he said.
Nantucket has the advantage of being one town, and Mr. Ray said he appreciates the difficulties Martha's Vineyard faces in crafting a comprehensive strategy to reduce deer ticks. "I will be honest, I have no clue how you folks get anything done," he said. "You guys have six different boards of health over there. How does that work?"
The Times, with the support of several Island organizations and as part of its ongoing Newsmaker series, has invited Mr. Telford to speak to conservation, land use planning, and public health officials about what steps might be taken as part of a comprehensive approach to reduce deer tick numbers. Invitations were sent to all six of the Island's boards of health and conservation commissions.
Mr. Telford's presentation is co-sponsored by the Martha's Vineyard Hospital, Vineyard Golf Club Foundation, Martha's Vineyard Preservation Trust, and Sheriff's Meadow Foundation.