Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. This bacteria is most often spread to humans by deer ticks, but the deer ticks first have to become infected. Typically the deer ticks pick up Borrelia burgdorferi from White-footed mice which they feed on as larvae or nymph ticks. When they become nymph or adult ticks, they will travel on deer who bring them to homes and yards. Massachusetts officials have long battled with the public over the idea of lowering the deer population to limit the incidence of Lyme disease. A method that is not popular among animal lovers.
Stop Lyme Disease Early in the Transmission Cycle
To appease the public, the chairman of the board of public health for Nantucket, Dr. Malcolm MacNab is proposing a new approach. He found that an evolutionary biologist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology wants to stop the bacteria earlier in the cycle, by starting with White-footed mice.
As reported by the New York Times, Dr. Esvelt of M.I.T. proposed at a meeting on Nantucket Island that he could create mice which are immune to either the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria or a protein in the deer ticks’ saliva, or both. This immunity would break the transmission cycle in the earliest phase. He proposed that if he is successful in creating the Lyme immune mice, that he release them on a small uninhabited island and track the number of infected ticks. If the infected tick population is significantly reduced within a couple of years, they will release the mice on other islands, maybe Nantucket next.
While the project is not yet funded, Dr. Esvelt was gathering community support first. Starting with Nantucket was a natural idea as Dr. MacNab pointed out, nearly 40% of Nantucket residents have had Lyme disease.
Without support from a majority of Nantucket residents, Dr. Esvelt would not be willing to pursue the idea on the island. He will be presenting this idea to Martha’s Vineyard too. The public’s reaction has not yet been determined, but attendees at the meeting are curious if this could work.
We are committed to providing you the best most up-to-date information on the threat of tick-borne diseases in Central Mass. Stay tuned for the latest on ticks in the area. Be sure to follow the 6 C’s of tick control to make certain your yard is not inadvertently attracting ticks.