This thrust uses a multi-pronged strategy to try to understand the biology and distribution of deer ticks and to reduce the transmission of diseases, especially Lyme disease, from deer ticks to humans. URI researchers continue to study the environmental factors, particularly humidity, that affect deer tick distribution and are developing a web-based information system so that the public can properly understand the risks associated with deer ticks and strategies that humans can take to avoid contact with them. Knowledge areas include 721 (20%) and 722 (80%). In KA 721, we are elucidating transmission dynamics of pathogens among tick vectors and vertebrate hosts, as well as improving methods of pest control through the use of 4-posters to apply pesticides to deer and evaluation of natural enemies of ticks. In KA 722, we are developing methods to prevent disease transmission from ticks to humans, by educating the public about ways to avoid deer ticks, by developing novel vaccination strategies, and by developing biomolecular assays for tick-borne pathogens. Stakeholders in this program literally include the entire U.S. population, who could contract Lyme disease either at home or on vacation, but most stakeholders are in the Northeast U.S., the hotbed of this problem. We assume that this program will continue to be funded primarily by extramural sources (e.g., USDA, NIH) and that the leader of the program will be able to continue to attract a multidisciplinary cadre of talented people to the program. The ultimate goal of the program is to provide the public with enough information and products that the incidence of Lyme disease will be significantly reduced. Outputs from the program include peer-reviewed publications, fact sheets, a web site, and on-site demonstrations of materials and techniques. Outcomes include changes in behavior of the public, so that they reduce the risk of contact with ticks, and a reduction in the incidence of Lyme disease.

Situation and priorities

Public awareness of tick-borne diseases is increasing in the coastal Northeast region, but there continues to be poor implementation and compliance with disease prevention strategies, despite the extraordinary prevalence of such diseases in this region, including Rhode Island. The deer tick becomes  infected with and transmits a variety of infections including the Lyme disease bacterium, as well as the agents causing human babesiosis and granulocytic anaplasmosis. Populations of white-tail deer, found increasingly even in semi-urban settings, sustain and have served to increase deer tick populations. URI researchers are attempting to develop a health information delivery and decision support system intended to reduce the incidence of Lyme disease. The first step toward the establishment of a health information system involved identifying and prioritizing risk. Using surveillance data accumulated over a dozen years, URI researchers developed new tools to pinpoint risk, both spatially and seasonally. Using computer models to view disease patterns in Rhode Island, URI scientists determined which landscape patterns presented the greatest risk for encountering a tick bite. This will allow formulation of landscape plans to reduce the chances of encounters between ticks and people. Another aspect of the project involves the creation of a web-based decision support system. Using this system, people can compile a customized risk index and then follow links that will help them devise short- and long-term disease prevention action plans. Also, attempts are being made to reduce tick abundance community-wide by using USDA-designed 4-posters, which are devices that attract deer with corn dispensed in small amounts. The deer must pass through a set of vertically mounted rollers that are treated with pesticide, which should reduce the deer tick population. Finally, URI scientists study the salivary glands of ticks to find compounds from ticks with potential pharmacological value, formulate novel vaccination strategies to prevent tick-transmitted infections, develop biomolecular assays for tick-borne pathogens, elucidate transmission dynamics of pathogens among tick vectors and vertebrate hosts, and discover and evaluate natural enemies of ticks.

Goals of this Program

The ultimate goal of the program is to provide the public with enough information and products that the incidence of Lyme disease will be significantly reduced. To this end, URI researchers are attempting to develop a comprehensive health information delivery and decision support system addressing risk behaviors and awareness of Lyme disease.

Activities

· Use surveillance data accumulated over a dozen years to develop new tools to pinpoint risk, both spatially and seasonally.
· Use computer models to view disease patterns in Rhode Island and to develop models for disease risk.
· Determine landscape patterns that present the greatest risk for encountering a tick bite.
· Formulate landscape plans to reduce the chances of encounters between ticks and people.
· Create a web-based decision support system. Using this system, people will be able to compile a customized risk index and then follow links that will help them devise short- and long-term disease prevention action plans.
· Reduce tick abundance community-wide by using USDA-designed 4-posters, which are devices that attract deer with corn dispensed in small amounts.
· Study the salivary glands of ticks to find compounds from ticks with potential pharmacological value, formulate novel vaccination strategies to prevent tick-transmitted infections, develop biomolecular assays for tick-borne pathogens, elucidate transmission dynamics of pathogens among tick vectors and vertebrate hosts, and discover and evaluate natural enemies of ticks.

Contact
Dr. Thomas Mather
Professor
Plant Sciences and Entomology
230 Woodward Hall
tmather@uri.edu