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The MMCRI Vector-borne Disease Laboratory receives award from the Maine Center for Disease Control

mmc vector borne disease laboratory

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has awarded MMCRI's Vector-borne Disease Laboratory (VBDL) the Pump Handle Award, which recognizes a person or group that have made important contributions to help reduce the impact of infectious diseases in Maine. Although it may be cold outside and the calendar says we are in the winter months, VDBL researchers work year-round to track, identify and look for solutions to control ticks and mosquitoes in Maine. Both ticks and mosquitoes can carry different pathogens that can be transmitted to humans, such as Lyme disease, which is carried by the deer tick, and Eastern Equine Encephalitis and Western Nile Virus, which are transmitted by mosquitoes. 

For the past 25 years, Dr. Peter Rand and Dr. Robert Smith with their colleagues have provided free tick identification for the public statewide. This project has demonstrated the advance of the deer tick from south coastal Maine up major river valleys to the foothills and now into northernmost Maine (see map).  It has also allowed analysis of the seasonality of tick life stages and the influence of weather events on tick populations. In a project funded by an award to the Maine CDC, VBDL researchers have collaborated with the University of Maine's Climate Change Institute to assess the impact of climate change on the distribution of disease-carrying ticks in Northern New England. Funding from the Maine CDC and the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation has also enabled teams to be established in central and northern counties to collect ticks, trap mosquitoes and obtain blood samples from hunter-killed deer and moose to monitor for the presence of Lyme disease, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, and Western Nile Virus.

In the Town of Islesboro, where Lyme disease cases have risen rapidly in the last three years, VBDL researchers conducted canine and deer surveys to demonstrate the abundance and infection prevalence of deer ticks and the risks associated with the transmission of Lyme disease.  These discoveries led to the establishment of a town committee to consider reduction of the deer herd to reduce the abundance of ticks in the area.

Offering control solutions to land and homeowners has also been a priority for the MMCRI Vector-borne group.  In two recent studies funded by grants from the USDA, they have demonstrated that a minimal-risk botanical pesticide containing rosemary oil is virtually as effective as the most commonly used synthetic pesticide in killing deer ticks (Rand, et al.:2010, J. Med. Entomol. 47: 695-698). The VDBL is now utilizing the data they have collected in field surveys, the statewide tick identification program, and human case data extending over the last 20 years, to create an interactive website which will allow individual property owners to choose the best options for controlling ticks based on an estimate of the risk of exposure on their property.

"We estimate that over 5000 people are now contracting Lyme disease in Maine each year," says Rand. "With no vaccine available, tick bite prevention is the key to disease reduction, and key to that is an educated public. It's been tremendously rewarding to translate for the public, public health authorities, and human and veterinary health professionals, the understanding we have gained about the ecology of Maine ticks, both directly and in the media... and now to look forward to the power of the internet."

Maine Medical Center Research Institute 81 Research Dr Scarborough, ME 04074 (207)396-8100

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