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Summer is a wonderful season here in the northeast US, but there is a dark side - ticks. Tick numbers, types of ticks, and diseases (including Lyme disease) that people are getting from tick bites are all increasing. Nothing seems to stop their spread and their increasing numbers. But what if a fungus that kills ticks is the answer? The fungus is Metarhizium anisopliae, which occurs naturally in forest soils. It is sold as Met52 - a non-toxic to humans and pets product that anyone can now purchase.

The product is now being tested in a multiyear study (led by R. Ostfeld & F. Keesing) in 24 neighborhoods with a high incidence of Lyme disease in New York state. Studies show that ticks die within 3 to 7 days after being exposed to Met52 (a spray made up of the fungal spores and water). Personally, I am very excited by this natural product and hope that it works well. The researchers are hoping for a 90% reduction of ticks (or more!) in areas and yards where it is applied! That is better control than the insecticides typically used. The researchers feel that if this works well, then municipalities or neighborhoods could do it on a large scale for tick control.

I first read about the study in this July 2018 article by M. Molteni in Wired: WE HAVE NO IDEA HOW BAD THE US TICK PROBLEM IS

Together, these efforts are helping to change the way people and government agencies think about ticks as a public health threat. ...The trouble is that scientists also know very little about which interventions actually reduce those risks. “There’s no shortage of products to control ticks,” says Ostfeld. “But it’s never been demonstrated that they do a good enough job, deployed in the right places, to prevent any cases of tick-borne disease.” In a double-blind trial published in 2016, CDC researchers treated some yards with insecticides and others with a placebo. The treated yards knocked back tick numbers by 63 percent, but families living in the treated homes were still just as likely to be diagnosed with Lyme.

Ostfeld and his wife and research partner Felicia Keesing are in the middle of a four-year study to evaluate the efficacy of two tick-control methods in their home territory of Dutchess County, an area with one of the country’s highest rates of Lyme disease. It’s a private-public partnership between their academic institutions, the CDC, and the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Foundation, which provided a $5 million grant.  ...continue reading "Is A Tick Killing Fungus The Answer to Tick Control?"

I recently posted on ways the number of  ticks can be reduced in a backyard. Now an article on vaccines being developed to battle tick borne diseases, especially Lyme disease. However, the bad news is that ticks now transmit 16 diseases in the US (including anaplasmosis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis), while vaccines typically only focus on one disease at a time. Tick borne diseases are on the rise throughout the world.

We all know about Lyme disease (which is also a problem in Europe, China, and Mongolia), but in parts of Africa, the Middle East, Asia and southern Europe, ticks can spread Crimean–Congo haemorrhagic fever, which is fatal 40% of the time! And while some researchers are focusing on human vaccines, some are focusing on vaccines for mice. Big problem: would we really be able to give the vaccine to enough mice to make a difference? I really like the idea of a vaccine that hampers the ability of ticks to feed on humans. From Nature:

The new war on Lyme and other tick-borne diseases

Williams is testing whether vaccinating mice against Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease in the United States, can reduce the proportion of ticks that are infected. ....Borrelia burgdorferi infects an estimated 329,000 people in the United States each year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia. And although most people who get prompt treatment recover quickly — Williams has had Lyme three times — up to one in five develops long-term and potentially life-threatening symptoms, including heart, vision or memory problems, or debilitating joint pain. ...continue reading "Vaccines to Battle Tick Diseases?"