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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

URI researcher: Deer tick populations skyrocketing
in northern Rhode Island
Residents should take precautions to prevent Lyme disease

KINGSTON, R.I. -- June 27, 2002 -- The summer of 2002 has seen a dramatic increase in the number of deer ticks found in northern and central Rhode Island, and that means residents face a much greater risk of getting Lyme disease. That’s the warning being issued by Thomas Mather, professor of entomology at the University of Rhode Island and director of the URI Center for Vector Borne Disease.

Mather and his team have monitored tick abundance at 79 locations throughout Rhode Island since 1993 and found that tick numbers in the northern half of the state have historically been quite low. But this year, almost every northern Rhode Island monitoring site has seen a four- to eight-fold increase in tick numbers since 2001.

At Durfee Hill Management Area in Glocester, for example, Mather’s team found 79 deer ticks at a site where fewer than two were found in each of the previous nine years. They found 12 and 48 at two Burrillville sites that previously averaged one or two. Sites in Foster, Coventry and Scituate had similar results.

In southern Rhode Island, where deer tick populations have typically been high, Mather is finding that tick populations are average or slightly below average this year.

"The usually low number of ticks in the northern part of the state probably has to do with its distance from the coast," explained Mather. "Ticks prefer areas with moist soil, and there tend to be more misty, foggy mornings along the coast. That could be why deer ticks have flourished for 25 years within 30 miles of the coast from Delaware north to Cape Cod."

Mather can’t yet explain why tick numbers have increased so dramatically at inland locations this year, but he does not believe the reason is related to the recent mild winter as some have speculated. What he is certain of, however, is that Lyme disease cases in northern Rhode Island are sure to rise this year.

  • To avoid contracting Lyme disease:
    • Check thoroughly every day for ticks
    • Apply a repellent containing Permethrin on clothing whenever going outdoors
    • Keeping the edge of the yard clear of leaf litter because that’s where ticks are most prevalent; and
    • Consider hiring a professional to apply a tick treatment throughout the yard.
    "Tick abundance is the most important risk factor in predicting disease occurrence, so northern Rhode Islanders should take precautions when spending time outside, particularly at the edge of the woods," Mather said.

    In addition to Lyme disease, deer ticks also carry a malaria-like protozoan that causes babesiosis and a bacterium that causes human granulocytic ehrlichiosis (HGE). Like Lyme disease, these infections cause flu-like symptoms, are difficult to diagnose, and can be fatal. Dogs are also susceptible to Lyme disease, but cats are not.

    For Information: Thomas Mather 874-5616, Todd McLeish 874-7892

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