For over a decade, Narragansett has reported one of the highest incidence rates for Lyme disease in Rhode Island. Even last year when ticks were less abundant, 1 out of every 400 residents suffered a newly identified case. Many more were likely infected but remained unconfirmed. Reducing tick abundance, especially in residential areas, is the key to disease prevention, but neither the state nor any town in Rhode Island have yet to provide for any kind of tick reduction program. Until now, tick-borne disease prevention has been solely the responsibility of individuals.
Many strategies for tick control are available but most are at the scale of individual properties. Small-scale trials using a novel strategy developed by the USDA called the '4-poster' were recently completed in 5 northeastern states including Rhode Island. Over a 5-year period, abundance of nymphal deer ticks, the stage most responsible for disease transmission, was reduced by over 50% across a 2 square mile area. Now, with funding made available through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the town of Narragansett has the opportunity to put this technology into action on a town-wide scale, to test if this device can reduce Lyme disease incidence.
The '4-poster' device
White-tailed deer are the essential hosts for adult deer ticks; without deer, deer tick populations simple would not exist. However, eliminating deer is too costly to implement and maintain in most afflicted communities, and even talk of eliminating deer usually evokes high levels of public controversy. The '4-poster' device targets the ticks that feed on deer without harming the animal, and has the potential for delivering the broadest-scale impact on tick-borne disease risk while requiring the lowest level of community engagement.
How it works
The '4-poster' has a central bin filled with corn (to attract deer) that trickles into specially designed feeding troughs surrounded by a pair of foam posts at either end of the device. An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved acaricide, to kill ticks, is applied weekly to the foam posts by a licensed pesticide applicator. Deer rub their head against these posts while attempting to get the corn, applying the acaricide directly to the deer's head and neck, which is where most ticks feed. Most of the ticks are killed before having a chance to reproduce.
Is it safe?
The tick-killing chemical permethrin is commonly used in many households on pets ... even for controlling head lice on children. For this use, it is completely contained on the foam posts and deer; pesticide is not sprayed into the environment. Additionally, each device must be located at least 100 yards from any resident, apartment or playground, and be clearly marked with appropriate precautionary statements. Moreover, there is no evidence to suggest that the small amount of corn deer consume from these devices influences their natural population.
For further information or to inquire about participating in this study please contact:
Office of Community Tick Control Research
University of Rhode Island
9 East Alumni Ave., Kingston, RI 02881