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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI tick researcher launches community-based Lyme disease prevention program

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 401-874-7892

KINGSTON, R.I. -- May 10, 2004 -- University of Rhode Island tick researcher Thomas Mather and Nathan Miller know what it takes to reduce the incidence of Lyme disease in the region, and Mather has been telling people how for more than a decade. But according to state and federal statistics, disease incidence rates continue to increase.

So now the URI researchers plan on changing their tactics. With the help of a $223,000 grant from the Centers for Disease Control and an additional federal appropriation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Mather and Miller are taking their show on the road.

Beginning later this month, these tick experts will lead a series of community-based workshops in high-risk neighborhoods to demonstrate tick control strategies, including perimeter spraying of pesticides, landscape management, and targeted treatments on tick hosts.

"We’ve told people before what they need to do to control ticks in their yards, but few seem to have followed our recommendations," said Mather, a professor of entomology and director of the URI Center for Vector-Borne Disease. "What we haven’t done before and what we are going to be doing now is to actually demonstrate these control strategies."

In addition, trained vendors who provide tick control services will also be in attendance at the workshops to answer questions.

"People don’t seem to know who to call to get this work done," Mather said. "But if we tell them exactly who to call and have that person on hand at the workshop, I bet they’ll make the call when the time comes."

Mather and Miller are targeting the towns of North Kingstown, South Kingstown and Exeter for this first round of neighborhood workshops, but he anticipates expanding the program to additional communities in future years.

Step one of their program is to conduct a survey of area residents to learn more about their Lyme disease prevention attitudes and current tick control practices. Those surveys are now available in waiting rooms at doctor and dentist offices throughout South County, and survey participants will be entered into a drawing to receive free tick control treatment services in their yard, and other prizes.

The survey will be followed in late May and early June with at least five neighborhood workshops that will be open to the public.

"These workshops are going to be fun and exciting educational programs that people are going to want to attend," Mather said. "We’re even offering door prizes to encourage people to come out and participate."

The third step in the URI researchers’ community-based Lyme disease prevention program is a community-wide test of a new system for reducing tick populations by killing the ticks on their deer hosts. That system will be tested throughout the town of Narragansett beginning in the fall.

"There seems to be no end to researching tick-borne diseases, but we believe it is time to begin taking aggressive action to kill ticks and reduce the risk of infection," said Mather. "We see our role as facilitators in the process, empowering homeowners at risk with knowledge and contacts they will need to take control of their own tick problem."

This prevention program is aimed to do just that. Mather added that he hopes this initiative will result in the creation of an Office of Community Tick Control Research at URI to continue this effort.

For Further Information: Thomas Mather 874-5616