Lyme researchers narrowing focus

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Fri, 06/08/2018 - 7:45am
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Lyme disease researchers are trying to zero in on where people contract tick-borne diseases on Block Island. In an effort aimed at informing their studies, researchers from Yale and Columbia Universities held a free round of Lyme disease and babesiosis testing at the Block Island Medical Center on Memorial Day.

“We drew blood from 102 people,” said Pilar Fernández, a postdoctoral research fellow at Columbia University who is collaborating on the research with Columbia Professor Dr. Maria Diuk-Wasser, and Dr. Peter Krause of the Yale School of Medicine and Public Health. Krause has been conducting free Lyme testing for 25 years at the Medical Center, while Diuk-Wasser and her team began island-based field research about six years ago.

“We are working more closely and combining our research efforts to better understand how and where people are more at risk of acquiring Lyme disease and babesiosis on Block Island,” said Fernández. “The idea is that we can relate the outcome of the Lyme disease test with the information that we collect from activity surveys that are available through the Tick App, online at our website, or in paper format.”

The Tick App (thetickapp.org) is designed to collect information from participants to inform what activities and locations present the greatest risk for tick exposure on the island.

“We will be inviting people that got tested to participate in this study and to complete a very brief daily survey during a 15-day time period, noting what they did each day, from a list of activities; if they found ticks on themselves, or their pets; and if they used any protective measures,” said Fernández. “We are also planning on visiting their houses to collect ticks in their yards, and ask them to report any ticks they might find.”

Fernández said the goal is to summarize their research in order to answer several questions, such as: Where are people exposed to Lyme disease and babesiosis? Which activities increase the risk? And what are the most risky areas on Block Island? 

“At the end of the summer we'll be offering another round of testing, and with all that information we'll be able to answer the questions,” said Fernández.

Last year, according to Krause, the free Lyme testing that the researchers conducted at the Medical Center attracted 158 participants, 46 of which had contracted Lyme disease. Krause said that number was a little higher than in previous years.

Interestingly enough, the researchers point out that about 30 percent of the island population report tick bites each year, and that only 25 percent of the ticks on Block Island are infected. They also note that a tick must be attached to a host for about 36 to 48 hours for a person to contract Lyme disease.

As for the reason why the number of participants declined from 158 to 102 for this year’s testing, Fernández said, “I think it was due to the holiday, but it’s also before the high-risk season for ticks, before tick exposure typically occurs. 

However, because we are having warmer weather, people might be exposed to adult ticks earlier in the season. Ticks start being active if the temperature is over 46 degrees. So, we are curious how this early testing will be different from previous years.”

Fernández said for more information about the researchers and their research go to the Columbia University lab’s website: www.columbia.edu/~mad2256.