Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne illness in the U.S. with 30,000 cases reported annually. Lyme disease is the most frequently reported disease that can be passed from animals to humans.
Worldwide, Lyme disease affects the lives of millions of people. But there is very little public discussion about the environmental conditions that encourage the spread of Lyme disease.
New Lyme Disease Book
A new book, Lyme Disease: The Ecology of a Complex System, presents an assessment of Lyme disease as well as the factors that contribute to its expanding range. The author is Dr. Richard S. Ostfeld, Senior Scientist and Animal Ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, New York. (Read about Under Our Skin – Lyme Disease Film)
Speaking about the research on Lyme Disease done at Cary Institute, Dr. Ostfeld notes: "Some spots within the Northeast are much riskier than others and we’ve developed specific hypotheses to explain why.”
Ostfeld has studied the ecology of tick-borne diseases for more than twenty years and argues that an overly simplistic view of Lyme disease ecology and risk has caused us to focus on the wrong culprit—deer.
Revealing What Spreads Lyme Disease
Instead, Outfield’s long-term research shows that white-footed mice are the critical hosts for black-legged ticks, which carry and spread the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. White-footed mice thrive in the small woodlots found throughout cities and suburbs. Very high mouse populations allow more ticks to survive and lead to predictable spikes in human Lyme disease exposure. (comment on this post below)
Risk of Lyme Disease
Ostfeld identifies risk factors and recommends steps that can prevent Lyme disease from continuing to expand and increase in intensity. Furthermore, he turns our attention to land-use planning and the ways in which biodiversity loss increases disease risk.
Outfield’s book on Lyme disease looks at:
- The importance of looking at human infectious disease as an ecological system
- Why intact forests with a diversity of vertebrates (opossum, squirrel, fox, etc.) are vital to human and ecological health
- Why Lyme disease is an excellent model system for understanding other infectious diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans, such as SARS and West Nile virus
- Links between landscape management and human health
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The Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies is a private, not-for-profit environmental research and education organization in Millbrook, N.Y. For more than twenty-five years, Cary Institute scientists have been investigating the complex interactions that govern the natural world. Their objective findings lead to more effective policy decisions and increased environmental literacy. Focal areas include air and water pollution, climate change, invasive species, and the ecological dimensions of infectious disease.