Reducing the population of white-tailed deer can significantly reduce the number of Lyme disease cases, a new study states.
The white-tailed deer is one of the main hosts of blacklegged ticks - the insect known to spread Lyme disease. For many years now, researchers have wondered whether reducing the deer can lower the disease risk. They finally have an answer. After conducting a study that span across a period of 13 years, researchers in Connecticut found that Lyme disease risk could indeed be lowered by reducing the number of white-tailed deer.
"We found that reducing deer density by 87 percent resulted in a significant reduction in tick abundance, nearly a 50 percent reduction in tick infection rate, and an 80 percent reduction in resident-reported human cases of Lyme disease," the authors wrote in a press statement. "Our study demonstrated that deer populations can be manipulated to reduce human interactions with deer, infected nymphal ticks, and human risk of contracting Lyme disease."
The researchers examined the health reports of 98 percent of the permanent residents in a Connecticut community from 1995 to 2008. They looked at the level of exposure each resident had to the ticks that were vectors of the disease. At the end of the study, researchers found that people who lived in communities that had a larger population of the white-tailed deer were at a higher risk of the disease. Researchers also noted that reducing deer density to 5.1 deer per square kilometer led to a 76 percent reduction in tick abundance, a 70 percent reduction in the entomological risk index, and an 80 percent reduction in resident-reported cases of Lyme disease.
"Reducing deer populations to levels that reduce the potential for ticks to successfully breed should be an important component of any long-term strategy seeking to reduce the risk of people contracting Lyme disease," the authors stated. "Additionally, good hunter access to deer habitat and a wide variety of management tools (bait, unlimited tags, incentive programs) are important components of a successful deer reduction strategy."
Earlier this year, researchers from the National Institute of Allergy And Infectious Disease revealed that non-infected ticks could help detect Lyme disease in people still experiencing symptoms, post treatment.
The white-tailed deer is also known as the Virgina deer and is native to the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, and South America. White-tailed deer eats varieties of food: shoots, leaves, cacti, and grasses. They also eat acorns, fruit, and corn. Their special stomach allows them to eat some things that humans cannot, such as mushrooms and poison ivy. Their diet varies by season depending on the availability of food sources, according to National Geographic.
First recognized in 1975, Lyme disease has become very common among children. Typical symptoms of the disease are fever, headache, fatigue and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migraines. If left untreated, the infection can spread to joints, heart and the nervous system. Majority of the ticks that spread this disease are found in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, Minnesota and Wisconsin, according to a CDC report.
In its early stages, Lyme disease can be effectively treated with antibiotics. In general, the sooner such therapy is begun following infection, the quicker and more complete the recovery is, according to a Mayo Clinic report. Antibiotics such as doxycycline or amoxicillin taken orally for two to four weeks, can speed up the healing of the rash and can usually prevent subsequent symptoms such as arthritis or neurological problems. There is no compelling evidence that prolonged antibiotic therapy is more effective than two weeks of therapy. Prolonged antibiotic use may have serious side effects.
The current study was published online in the Journal of Medical Entomology.