Deer spread Lyme ticks in suburban backyards

By Steven Reinberg
health day reporter

TUESDAY, Sept. 20, 2022 (HealthDay News) — They look so cute, quietly browsing in your garden. But the overpopulation of white-tailed deer in the northeastern United States could be helping to spread Lyme disease and another tick-borne disease, anaplasmosis, especially in suburban areas, a new study has found.

The research points out that these deer, carriers of ticks that transmit both diseases, are no longer confined to wooded areas, but often live in the yards of suburban homes, increasing the risk of transmission.

“Your garden is their home, and if you’re worried about ticks or tick management, or potential damage, you need to recognize that’s where they actually choose to live and work with or manage against. them,” said lead researcher Jennifer Mullinax. She is an assistant professor of wildlife ecology and management at the University of Maryland.

Deer themselves are not a health threat. But blacklegged ticks (deer ticks) and the lone ticks they carry spread Lyme disease and other illnesses, Mullinax explained.

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection caused by the bite of an infected tick. It causes symptoms such as rash, fever, headache, and fatigue. If left untreated, it can spread to the heart, joints, and nervous system. Anaplasmosis causes similar symptoms and can lead to bleeding and kidney failure.

The ticks that cause these diseases lodge and reproduce on your lawn.

As development encroaches on their habitats, deer are living closer to humans and the landscapes provide easy grazing on grasses, shrubs and flowers, Mullinax said. Your lawn is “warm for sure, there are fewer predators and it’s just convenient,” she said.

This five-year study found that suburban deer often spend the night within 55 meters of human homes.

For the study, the Mullinax team tracked 51 deer that were fitted with GPS tracking devices.

Trackers revealed that deer avoided residential areas during the day, but gravitated towards them at night, especially in winter. Animals often slept near the edges of lawns and in the yards of houses and apartment buildings.

So many deer in residential areas increase the risk of human exposure to tick-borne diseases, Mullinax said. Reducing tick populations by eliminating deer or treating areas where deer roost can help limit the spread of disease, she said.

Managed deer hunting can help control the tick population, but culling the herd can be difficult to accomplish, the study points out. People don’t want hunters in suburban areas, and chemically reducing deer fertility hasn’t worked, he added.

Mullinax said it’s possible to limit access to your garden by installing deer fences or mulch barriers, but a better way to prevent disease may be to control the tick population.

“Most people get Lyme disease from ticks in their yard. There are many different methods to control ticks,” she said. “For county agencies and state agencies, it really prompts them to make some adjustments in deer population management.”

Dr. Marc Siegel is a clinical professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York and reviewed the results.

He offered several strategies to reduce the tick population in your garden: Cut your grass short. Spray your garden for ticks. Use tick repellent. And check your body and clothes for ticks after spending time outdoors.

“I tell them to look for bumps on their scalp and in their pubic area,” Siegel said. “I tell them if you’re feeling tired, maybe it’s not COVID – maybe it’s Lyme.”

Because Lyme disease can be difficult to diagnose, Siegel said he wasn’t afraid to prescribe antibiotics if he suspected Lyme disease by its symptoms alone.

“I fall into the category of over-contractors,” he said. “But this study doesn’t make me look bad, because it’s basically saying these things are getting out of hand. We expect to see a lot more disease.”

The research was published online September 17 in the journal Urban ecosystems.

More information

There is more information on Lyme disease at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Jennifer Mullinax, PhD, assistant professor, wildlife ecology and management, University of Maryland, College Park; Marc Siegel, MD, clinical professor, medicine, NYU Langone Medical Center, New York; Urban Ecosystems, online, September 17, 2022

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