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Whether it is an increased sense of awareness, or just the weather — the Newtown Health District is seeing a two-fold increase in the number of ticks it has received for testing so far this spring, and officials are bracing for an even bigger proportion of samples as summer comes on in late June.
“By everyone’s account, it’s already a bad year for ticks,” Health District Director Donna Culbert told The Newtown Bee this week. “The Newtown Health District has collected a record amount of ticks to be sent to the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station for testing for this time of year.”
As of May 24, the Health District collected 162 tick specimens to be sent for testing.
“In 2016, we were at 76 specimens; in 2015 we were at 74; in 2014 we were at 48; and in 2013 we were at 41,” she said. “That is a greater than 100 increase in just a year, and about a 400 percent increase since 2013.”
While the health director cannot definitively say there is a greater than 100 percent increase in ticks in the local environment, there may be a few factors that cause this increase in the number of ticks being brought in for testing.
She said residents awareness of ticks, the potential communicable diseases they carry, and the opportunity to send them for testing could all be driving the increase.
The health district has been proactive in communicating to its Newtown constituents about tick awareness, and tickborne disease prevention.
Another disturbing trend is the infection rate for those tick specimens tested as of April 25, which Ms Culbert said, is at approximately four in ten.
“Again, that statistic tells us about the specimens submitted and may not be an accurate portrayal of all of the ticks in the Newtown environment, but it gives us information to help us make decisions,” she said. “And that’s what we are interested in — giving information that helps us make decisions.”
Ms Culbert is taking the opportunity along with revealing these new upward trends in samples, to remind residents of how to protect themselves from tick bites and disease.
“The Health District has been promoting the BLAST message for several years,” Ms Culbert said.
The BLAST campaign directs anyone who may have been exposed to ticks to:
*Bathe within two hours (or sooner) of coming in from the outdoors.
*Look for a tick or a rash everyday.
*Spray/Safeguard your yard (spray acarcides that kill ticks and/or use landscaping techniques to make it less tick friendly).
*Treat your pets.
“Although the BLAST message is a good one, it has simple steps any person can take,” Ms Culbert said.
In recent years, Newtown under Ms Culbert’s leadership and with the support of town officials and the Health District staff, has worked to take awareness and prevention efforts to a higher level to reduce tickborne illness.
“Newtown’s Board of Selectmen sanctioned work to engage a media marketing firm to learn more about residents’ perceptions and ways to change/improve messaging to change behaviors to protect against tick bites and reduce tickborne disease,” she said.
The town is currently working with MORE Advertising, a minority- and-women-owned Massachusetts-based cause marketing firm with experience successfully mounting public health and safety programs similar to what Newtown hopes to launch.
The company worked with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health creating a strategic outreach and education campaign on avoiding and preventing tickborne disease, “Mosquitoes and Ticks: They’re Out In Mass!”
MORE representatives and the Health District are conducting focus groups on Friday, June 9, and Monday, June 19, from 8:30 to 10 am, at the Municipal Center, 3 Primrose Street, at Fairfield Hills. Interviews and input will be added to information already collected from local surveys and interviews about tick and tickborne disease awareness.
“This is the next step in creating a marketing plan to help target audiences that are either unaware or unmotivated by the localized threat of tickborne illnesses,” Ms Culbert said. “And we are still looking for residents to participate in the focus groups.”
For more information, or to volunteer for one of both focus groups, contact Ms Culbert as soon as possible at 203-270-4291, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.