URI tick expert details protection

Says website provides access to tick expert
Thu, 06/06/2019 - 4:45pm
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Now that the weather is becoming temperate, and people are more inclined to spend time outdoors on Block Island, it is the season to be vigilant about protection against tick bites. The bite of a deer tick on Block Island can lead to serious health consequences, including contracting Lyme disease, a debilitating illness that can cause joint pain, chronic fatigue, and heart issues.

Free testing at the Block Island Medical Center in 2017, conducted jointly by Dr. Peter Krause of the Yale School of Medicine and Public Health, and Dr. Maria Diuk-Wasser of Columbia University, determined that about 30 percent of 158 people bitten by a tick tested positive for Lyme disease.

A website called the TickEncounter Resource Center (www.tickencounter.org), hosted by the University of Rhode Island, offers people the ability to identify ticks they encounter while providing a portal to a tick expert. Photos of ticks can be submitted using the website’s tickspotters tab.

Dr. Thomas Mather, a professor of public health entomology at the University of Rhode Island, told The Times that the website launched in 2006 after a research study determined its need. Mather, known as “The Tick Guy,” said the website was created as a result of people requesting a resource for tick-related questions. 

“There are more ticks in the environment than ever before,” said Mather, who came to URI in 1992 from the Harvard School of Public Health, and now serves as director of URI's Center for Vector-Borne Disease and its TickEncounter Resource Center. “The question then becomes: what can we do about it? There are five core actions that people can take to prevent tick bites.”

Those actions are noted on the website as the five top ticksmart actions to keep your family ticksafe: (1)(know) what type of tick it is, (2)(perform) body scans, (3)(turn) clothing into tick repellant clothing, (4)(treat) property with eco-friendly products, and (5)(protect) pets with a kill-on-contact product, protecting them and family members.  

“The website directs people to their next best course of action for dealing with ticks,” said Mather, who noted that people can submit photographs of ticks, or what they think are ticks, and then be connected to a tick expert. Mather said people sometimes misidentify ticks, and submit photos of other insects, such as a spider beetle, which looks similar to a deer tick, but is not harmful.

Mather said people should understand the ticks they encounter. “The reason to know is that different ticks transmit different germs. Knowing is a key action, so everyone should know.”

“Be vigilant with a tick check,” said Mather. “People should conduct a 30 second daily check in front of a mirror. Do a quick look. Simple things you can work into your life that are tick smart add to your wellness.”

For protection, “we like people to apply a tick repellant to their clothing,” such as permethrin. “There is a company in Greensboro, North Carolina called Insect Shield that treats clothing. Their prices are pretty reasonable,” he said. Insect Shield’s website (www.insectshield.com) claims that its EPA-registered product is invisible and odorless, and the company tested the product using United States Department of Agriculture guidelines. 

URI’s website notes that, “A URI study found that people wearing permethrin-treated sneakers and socks were 73.6 times less likely to have a tick bite than those wearing untreated footwear.” Permethrin “is a stable, synthetic form of an insecticidal compound produced by the chrysanthemum flower.” 

According to the National Pesticide Information Center (http://npic.orst.edu), “permethrin is an insecticide in the pyrethroid family. Pyrethroids are synthetic chemicals that act like natural extracts from the chrysanthemum flower.” Permethrin was classified in 1991 “by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as ‘not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans.’ This means that IARC could not decide whether or not permethrin can cause cancer.”  

For protecting property to reduce tick infestation, Mather suggests using an EPA-registered ecological friendly product, such as bifenthrin. “Spray it once a year. It breaks down in the environment quickly,” he said, noting that just like permethrin, it’s another “synthetic derivative of the chrysanthemum flower.”

The NPIC’s website states that, “Bifenthrin is an insecticide in the pyrethroid family.” It notes that, “Bifenthrin is not likely to reach groundwater because it binds tightly to soil. However, soil-bound bifenthrin has the potential to contaminate surface waters through runoff. Bifenthrin on soil surfaces is unlikely to become airborne.”

And, lastly, Mather said that protecting pets is essential because they can carry ticks into the household. “That’s an issue,” he said. Mather said that a kill-on-contact product that works well on pets is Vectra 3D by CEVA. Information on that repellant can be found at: www.vectrapet.com.