WARWICK, RI – Warm weather is here and now is the time to prepare for the upcoming tick season.  In an effort to help raise awareness about how to lower the rate of tick bites and Lyme disease, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) today joined Thomas Mather, director of the University of Rhode Island’s (URI) Center for Vector-Borne Disease and the TickEncounter Resource Center, and tick control expert David Mendell to launch a new Get TickSmart/RI campaign. 

During a press conference at Goddard Memorial State Park in Warwick, Professor Mather noted that different types of ticks carry different diseases.  Last year, Mather and the TickEncounter staff saw a 116% ‘uptick’ in the abundance of the tiny, poppy-seed sized blacklegged ticks (a.k.a. deer ticks) when compared to the previous five year average.  This year, Mather is undertaking his 20th annual project to map out where different ticks -- and the diseases they carry -- are located within Rhode Island.  The public is invited to join the TickSpotter Network by submitting pictures to: www.tickencounter.org

“The trend definitely seems to be one of more ticks in more places,” stated Mather, pointing out that the 2012 survey data show certain locations in Rhode Island experiencing, year over year increases of incredible 3 and 4 digit percentage increases.  As an example, he cited that nymphal ticks were 7.5 times more abundant than normal at one location on the East Greenwich/Warwick border. 

With Lyme disease on the rise nationwide, Senator Reed, a member of the Appropriations Committee, has secured over $1 million in federal appropriations over the years to help URI researchers develop and implement tick-bite prevention education programs as well as a community-based tick control programs.  He recently reintroduced the Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Prevention, Education, and Research Act with Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) to create a national strategy to combat Lyme disease and expand federal research efforts to increase surveillance and prevention. 

“Tick borne diseases pose serious public health challenges.  We want people to enjoy the great outdoors, but we also want them to be safe and aware of what they can do to protect themselves and their families.  I am working to boost federal research and coordination to help prevent Lyme disease and strengthen surveillance of tick-borne illnesses,” said Reed.  “Last year, we provided NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases with approximately $28 million in Lyme Disease research grants.  Advancing research and surveillance are vital to our efforts to eradicate suffering from these diseases.” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has singled out Lyme disease as the most common and fastest growing vector-borne, infectious disease in the country.  In 2011, more than 24,000 confirmed cases of Lyme disease were reported in the U.S., with the CDC stating they believed only 10-12% of all cases had been reported. 

Calling for a greater federal focus on research, education, and outreach to individuals and families, and coordination among health professionals and government agencies, Reed’s legislation would: 

Establish a Tick-Borne Disease Advisory Committee to streamline coordination between federal agencies and private organizations addressing tick-borne illnesses. 

Coordinate Increased Research and Development Around Lyme Disease: It would help the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) develop more accurate and time-sensitive diagnostic tools to strengthen surveillance and reporting of Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses. 

Increase Education: It would expand prevention of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases through community-based public education and create a physician-education program that includes the full spectrum of scientific research on the diseases. 

URI’s TickEncounter Resource Center has launched a new campaign, Get TickSmart/RI, with a goal of increasing tick literacy and helping people stay tick safe. As part of the campaign, Mather has identified five top TickSmart actions people can take to stay TickSafe. 

• KNOW the kind of ticks active throughout the year where you live and identify any tick found biting. 
• PERFORM daily tickchecks, especially checking “below the belt” for tiny nymph ticks. 
• TURN play clothes and other outdoor clothes into tick repellent clothes. 
• TREAT your yard with tick-killing insecticides. 
• PROTECT your pet using products with rapid kill or knockdown activity. 

“Our goal is to consistently communicate easy to practice, effective strategies for tick-bite protection,” Mather explained.  “There are dozens of actions people can think of when it comes to ticks but if people want to stay healthy, they have to commit to doing tick-bite protection that’s effective.  These five simple actions will definitely help.” 

“Planning for one of those actions, yard treatments to suppress tick populations, is something that should be on homeowners minds right now,” commented David Mendell, a TickSmart Certified deer tick control expert with the Bartlett Tree Experts.  “Tick habitat modification and application of tick-killing products that target the ticks and not the entire yard is an important part of any integrated tick management plan, and it would be good especially for people living in medium to high tick encounter risk communities to consider this now,” Mendell added.  Yard treatments to control the tiny nymph stage deer ticks should start just prior to Memorial Day, which is when these ticks begin to emerge.

“We’re so grateful to Senator Reed for all of his efforts over the past many years in helping to promote tick literacy and Lyme disease prevention,” stated Mather. “His leadership on tick-borne disease prevention, along with the efforts of the other members of Rhode Island’s federal delegation, is critical for the health of our state and the nation,” Mather concluded.

The TickEncounter website, www.tickencounter.org, has become one of the nation’s premier tick bite protection resources and provides a growing catalog of TickSmart tools, including a popular, interactive tick identification chart, shower cards for prompting daily tick checks, tick encounter risk maps, and many other TickSmart strategies for protecting yourself, your pets, and your yard from ticks.