Massachusetts is forming its first ever tick surveillance network to better track and understand the prevalence of ticks and tick-borne diseases, state officials said this week.
Bedford's Board of Health will receive $111,000 from the state to collect and test ticks for three pathogens in 31 communities in Middlesex, Franklin County and Barnstable counties and Nantucket.
Lyme disease and at least four other tick-borne illnesses are a growing threat in Massachusetts and the Northeast, yet there are virtually no public funds to control them. In the last year, the federal government has dramatically increased estimates of Lyme, saying it is 10 times more common than previous national counts and much of it is centered in New England. Those new figures translate into an estimated 40,000 new Lyme disease infections each year in Massachusetts alone.
The Laboratory of Medical Zoology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, which currently tests ticks the public sends in for a fee, will test 100 ticks from each participating town – 50 this spring and 50 in the fall. Residents in participating towns can mail in ticks to be tested for free until the limit is reached for their community.
The program is designed to provide estimates of how many ticks are carrying pathogens and allow each town to see rates of tick biting in real time, according to medical zoologist Stephen Rich, the UMass lab's director. Each tick will be tested for the pathogens that cause Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis and Babesiosis, all of which can cause serious illness and even death. Distribution of these pathogens is poorly understood and likely varies substantially across the state, Rich said.
In addition to the Nantucket Health Department, Franklin County participating public health departments are in Buckland, Charlemont, Conway, Deerfield, Gill, Hawley, Heath, Leyden, Monroe and Shelburne. In Middlesex County participating departments are in Acton, Bedford, Carlisle, Concord, Lincoln and Winchester. In Barnstable County they are Barnstable, Brewster, Bourne, Chatham, Dennis, Eastham, Falmouth, Harwich, Mashpee, Orleans, Provincetown, Sandwich, Truro, Wellfleet and Yarmouth. The testing is being funded as part of the Governor's Community Innovation Challenge Grant program.