With the excitement about SARS, it’s easy to forget that Lyme Disease season is coming again. Lyme is carried by ticks that hitch a ride on mice and deer. The increase in Lyme may be caused by the decrease in large forest areas, because the ticks do better in suburbia. White-footed mice, which are the main carriers of infected ticks, are more abundant in forest fragments, because there are fewer predators there. These mice especially like areas smaller than five acres. And deer are thriving in the suburbs, again because their predators can’t live there.
Brian Allan and Richard Ostfeld studied blacklegged ticks in 14 forest patches made up mostly of maple trees, and ranging from 1.7 to 18 acres, in New York’s Dutchess County, which now has the highest number of people infected with Lyme disease in the U.S. They found that smaller forest fragments had more infected ticks, meaning more Lyme disease. Forest patches smaller than three acres had three times as many ticks as larger fragments and seven times more infected ticks. As many as 80% of the ticks in the smallest patches were infected with Lyme bacteria, the highest rate the scientists have ever seen.
“Our results suggest that efforts to reduce the risk of Lyme disease should be directed toward decreasing fragmentation of deciduous forests of the northeastern United States into small patches, particularly in areas with a high incidence of Lyme disease,” says Keesing. “The creation of forest fragments smaller than five acres should especially be avoided.”
This means choosing between city or country life?with no suburbs in between?something that’s not likely to happen anytime soon. But at least we now know that as suburbs increase, so will Lyme Disease.
Cities may protect you from Lyme Disease, but there are other dangers there.
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