Recommendations of State Lyme Disease Commission

The Special Commission on Lyme Disease, comprised of public health experts, issued its report, “Lyme Disease in Massachusetts (PDF)” (Lyme Report) on February 28, 2013. Charged with investigating the incidence of Lyme disease and making recommendations to bring the Lyme disease epidemic under control, the Lyme Commission reported that “[t]he scourge of Lyme disease in the Commonwealth has been described as having reached epidemic proportions and as endemic in all of Massachusetts. “

The Lyme Commission divided its work into five topic areas: reporting, education, funding, prevention, and insurance. The Weston Conservation Commission has adopted the Lyme Commission’s prevention recommendations including environmental modes of intervention, deer management, and education on personal protection. An integrated strategy comprising short and long term approaches is required for … success.

Information Boxes
In the short term, the Lyme Commission recommends reducing brush near trails. The Conservation Commission’s land management efforts include clearing tick habitat along field and trail edges. In the long term, the Lyme Commission recommends education to promote tick-bite protection behaviors and practices. To help educate those on the trails, the Weston Conservation Commission will be installing tick and Lyme disease informational brochures in boxes at trailheads to alert those walking the trails to the presence of ticks and the precautions one should take. These boxes and brochures will be installed during the month of June. The boxes are being made at the Conservation Commission’s request by the students at Minuteman High School, who are donating their labor.

Deer & Ticks
The Lyme Commission also recommends deer reduction as a long-term Lyme disease prevention strategy. Environmental intervention is an appropriate response to a problem that “emerged as a result of three main factors: (1) reforestation after the abandonment of pastures and farms, (2) increased development (suburbanization) and recreational use of habitat, and (3) expansion in the density and distribution of white tailed deer, the main reproductive host of the deer tick.” The Lyme Commission concludes that “[d]eer density is the only one of these factors over which we have any possible control.”

The Lyme Report addressed the role of deer in the transmission of tick-borne diseases at length:
"Enhanced deer management needs to be implemented aggressively given the central role of deer in the life cycle of the deer tick, as summarized in numerous peer reviewed publications. (Citations omitted.) Each female deer tick that obtains a blood meal will lay 2000 eggs. Female deer ticks will feed only on larger animals such as dogs, deer, moose or bear. There is much misunderstanding of the deer tick life cycle with assertions that mice are more influential hosts; mice and other small animals (many passerine birds, shrews, squirrels and chipmunks) do feed immature ticks (larvae and nymphs) but never feed adult ticks, which are the only reproductive stage. Targeting the hosts of immature ticks to prevent the feeding of 2000 larvae or 200 nymphs could easily be compensated for by the successful feeding of one female tick. Deer ticks, however, emerge from eggs largely uninfected and thus acquire infection from such small hosts. Two things are thus needed for ecologic risk: production of new ticks (deer bloodmeal) and infection of new ticks (mice and birds)."

Deer Management
Since we cannot control mice and other small mammals, the only practicable intervention in the tick cycle is to reduce the number of deer. The way to do that is through hunting. The Lyme Commission concluded that “deer can … be safely managed in suburban sites with controlled hunts.” The Weston Conservation Commission supervised just such a controlled hunt in the fall of 2012. Over time, the Conservation Commission believes that bow hunting will eventually bring the deer herd under control. The Conservation Commission hopes that Weston residents, by voting at Town Meeting to allow the continuation of bow hunting on town land, will support this long-term environmental management tool, as strongly recommended by the State Lyme Commission.

To read the full Lyme Report, please visit the Lyme Disease Report (PDF) online.