WCSU and Ridgefield Health Department receive EPA grant to educate communities about tick management
Western Connecticut State University and the town of Ridgefield's Health Department are building upon a long-standing community partnership to reduce the incidence of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases with a new $25,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA Healthy Communities Grant Program funds projects that "... reduce environmental risks, protect and improve human health and improve the quality of life." The WCSU-Ridgefield Health Department collaboration was one of 11 projects selected from 70 submissions.
The project, "Spray Safe, Play Safe" will provide community education about chemical spraying for tick management. Pesticide sprays are one of the most effective methods for reducing tick populations, but many homeowners have concerns and questions about using this method of tick control. The educational materials will include videos, a public event and a homeowner decision-making tool explaining safe and judicious use of pesticides as part of an effective integrated tick management approach.
Fairfield County is consistently among the highest reporters of Lyme disease in the country. The goal of the collaboration is to help families make more informed tick management decisions to decrease the number of people - especially children - who suffer from tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease. Children are of special concern because Lyme disease incidence is highest in children under age 10, likely because children spend a lot of time outdoors.
"People are becoming more aware of using personal measures, like performing bodily tick checks or wearing repellent, to prevent tick bites," said Dr. Neeta Connally. "But many residents are uncertain or confused when it comes to thinking about pesticides as a way to reduce the number of ticks in the backyard. Some people spray too often or in the wrong locations in the yard, which can have negative environmental impacts. Others may choose to spray an ineffective product, which can actually increase one's risk for acquiring a tick-borne illness. This grant project will help us empower homeowners, particularly families with young children, to make informed decisions about pesticide use in their backyards."
Connally is an associate professor of Biological and Environmental Sciences at WestConn and a national expert on the prevention of Lyme and other diseases caused by bites from blacklegged ticks. In 2016 she received a four-year, $1.6 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention aimed at determining better ways to reduce tick-borne disease in residential settings. Connally is a Ridgefield resident and the current scientific advisor to the BLAST Tick-borne Disease Prevention Program, a health education initiative of the Ridgefield Health Department that seeks to reduce tick-borne diseases in the region.
BLAST has been active since 2008 educating residents on how to protect themselves from ticks, Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases through a series of steps: Bathe after outdoor activity; Look for ticks on one's body and children; Apply insect repellent; Spray the yard; and Treat one's pets.
Jennifer Reid, 2017 recipient of WestConn's HPX Distinguished Alumni Award for her Lyme disease efforts, directs the BLAST program for the Ridgefield Health Department.
"Whenever I'm making a BLAST presentation, questions about the effectiveness and safety of yard spray as a tick reduction strategy top the list," Reid said. "Community members are aware of the seriousness of tick-borne diseases and recognize that most people, especially children, encounter ticks in their own backyard. This project will provide residents with the information they need to make decisions about yard spray based on scientific data in a clear, easily accessible format. The goal is to help homeowners make responsible choices that will best protect their families and the environment."
BLAST program educators engage in conversations about tick-borne disease prevention strategies, including yard spray, at more than 30 scheduled programs, health fairs and community events each year. They have found that homeowners are interested in learning best practices for reducing ticks and preventing Lyme disease near homes, but that many still engage in practices that either increase pesticide exposure risk to themselves or the environment, or are ineffective at reducing ticks.
Dr. Rayda Krell, an entomologist and new member of Connally's Tick-borne Disease Prevention Laboratory, explained why the new project fits well with the research program.
"Our research explores how to improve integrated tick management practices," Krell said. "This EPA grant is exciting because it gives us a mechanism to communicate about evidence-based approaches. If we don't share our work with the public, it can't make a difference."
For more information, call the Office of University Relations at (203) 837-8486.