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Everyone is probably happy that winter is finally over, including Newtown’s thriving population of ticks.
Residents working in their yards, heading out to the park, or for a brisk hike along one of Newtown’s local trails needs to be aware that ticks will likely be springing onto them, their children, and their pets if they get the chance.
Donna Culbert, director of heath at the Newtown Health District, knows that tick season has arrived. Her office and its community partners are working on more ways to get the word out about the risk of tick bites, tick-borne disease, and how to prevent them.
“We live, work, and play in tick country,” Ms Culbert told The Newtown Bee, “so it’s important to be aware.”
Newtown is dedicated to reducing tickborne disease and is fortunate to have solid working relationships with experts in the field — including Dr Neeta Connally, director of a four-year federally funded research study of tickborne disease prevention at Western Connecticut State University, and Goudarz Molaei, PhD, a research scientist with the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station and associate clinical professor at Yale’s School of Public Health.
“We work with Dr Molaei regularly and have worked with Dr Connally over the years, and benefit from their experience and expertise,” Ms Culbert said. “The passion and commitment of these scientists helps us remain current in health education and promotion.”
A recent conversation between Ms Culbert and Dr Molaei confirmed that he is expecting a typical season across the state, with abundant ticks but not as severe as last year.
The onset of tick activity and specimen submissions to the Ag Station appears to be later than last year, but he expects the “stage” activity to be typical, Ms Culbert related, with adult tick activity peaking late April into May, and then nymph activity in May to July with a peak in June.
“He emphasized the nymph phase to be most the most problematic resulting in Lyme and other tickborne diseases, as the nymph is not easy to detect or remove,” Ms Culbert said.
Ms Culbert said that Dr Molaei echoed the message that the health district is trying to promote: it is important to be aware that ticks are everywhere and they have a remarkable ability to harbor multiple pathogens that can cause infection (Lyme, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, and others).
“One tick can transmit more than one disease,” Ms Culbert said. “Such an event is called co-infection. All the more reason to take precautions to prevent tick bites.”
Dr Molaei says residents need to remain vigilant and think of tick bites as having a greater consequences than just enduring a course of antibiotics.
“He said Newtown residents should not be casual about prevention,” Ms Culbert said. “We shared the notion that now is an ideal time to sharpen one’s attention to ticks as the season for potential exposure is here now, and the ticks are in the adult phase so they are easier to detect and remove.”
Following the culmination of her tickborne disease study at WCSU, Ms Culbert pointed out that Dr Connally was named to a US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) subcommittee formed to provide expertise to the HHS and Congress about effective means to monitor and prevent tick transmission of illnesses.
“While much of the public discussion of tick-borne human diseases has focused on diagnosis and treatment, there has been relatively little discussion about prevention,” she observed in a recent release about the HHS appointment.
“Not only are we trying to do a good job through prevention research to see what works, but we also face the challenge of communicating our scientific findings in a way that will be well received by the public,” Dr Connally said. “We’re seeking to reach a better understanding of how to prevent people from getting tick bites.
“If we can do a better job in prevention, we hope that we will not need to focus as much on disease diagnosis and treatment in the future,” Dr Connally added. “There has been a lot of research about how ticks behave and how to manage them, but we still have not done a great job in keeping people from getting sick. We’ve come a long way, but there’s more work to be done.”
BLAST-ing The Message
On the front lines locally, Ms Culbert said the Health District is ramping up its BLAST message.
“Ticks and tickborne disease aren’t going away, so its up to the individual to take action,” she said. “The Health District wants residents to learn about ticks and tick bite prevention and to remember its BLAST message. BLAST stands for five important things you and your family can do to stay safe from tickborne diseases.”
Ms Culbert reminds residents that BLAST stands for:
Bathing or showering soon after being outdoors
Look for and remove ticks from your skin and your pets
Apply repellent to skin and clothes and avoid tick-infested areas
Safeguarding your yard against ticks; spray or manage tall grass and leaf piles
Treat pets with veterinarian-recommended products
The Health District will be rolling out a more comprehensive messaging plan for BLAST in the coming weeks. That campaign is the culmination of a project Newtown has been working on with MORE Advertising, a marketing firm with experience successfully mounting public health and safety programs.
“In the mean time, do a tick check everyday,” Ms Culbert said. “And check your pets and children every time they come inside.”
For more information on ticks and tickborne disease prevention, contact the Newtown Health District at 203-270-4291 or firstname.lastname@example.org