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Community-Wide Integrated Tick Management: Not Cheap, New Study Shows

Closeup of a tick on a light brown surface with several thin, short wispy hairs. The tick has medium brown legs and mouthparts, a dark brown oval on its back immediately behind its head, and a translucent abdomen.

Effective and affordable management of ticks such as the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis) at the community level has long been sought after, but a new study shows the necessary costs remain steep. An analysis of integrated tick management models in a sample 1,000-acre community find even a two-part program could cost about $400 per household, with more robust programs raising the price even more.

By John P. Roche, Ph.D.

Tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease are a serious and worsening problem. Management efforts in the eastern U.S. primarily focus on the blacklegged tick (Ixodes scapularis), a vector of Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, and babesiosis. Currently, tick control is left to individual property owners, which makes control efforts variable and piecemeal. An alternative would be community-level control, as is often done with mosquitoes. But, for community-level tick control to be feasible, it would have to be affordable.

To examine the affordability of community-based tick control, a group of researchers investigated the estimated cost of integrated tick management initiatives in a community in New Jersey. They report their findings in an article published this month in the Journal of Medical Entomology. Their analysis estimates that a two-part integrated tick management program, using acaricide sprays and deer-targeted bait devices, would cost $373 to $439 per household in a model 1,000-home community, while adding a rodent-targeted bait boxes as a third component significantly raises the cost, to more than $3,000 per household.

The researchers—Terry Schulze, Ph.D., an independent medical entomologist; Lars Eisen, Ph.D., research entomologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases; Katie Russell, a geographic information systems analyst; and Robert Jordan, Ph.D., research scientist at the Monmouth County (New Jersey) Mosquito Control Division—examined the cost of several mechanisms of tick control: landscape management, the use of chemicals toxic to ticks (acaricides), and regulation of deer populations. Their cost estimates were based on consultation with pest-control specialists, scientists, government agencies, and manufacturer-provided documentation. They studied costs and potential integrated tick management programs in a model community in Monmouth County in northern New Jersey. The 1,000-acre model community consisted of 272 acres of forest, 208 acres of old fields and agricultural-use non-forest habitat, and 320 houses. Of the residential area, 43 percent was forest, 45 percent was non-forest land such as lawns, and about 12 percent was pavement and buildings.

Satellite view of a mixed forested and residential community, with a bold red line indicating the border of the community analyzed in the study. The landscape is a mix of brown forested areas (indicating trees without leaves in winter or early spring), brown open fields, and green lawns.

A research team examining the costs of a community-wide integrated tick management program used a model community in Monmouth County in northern New Jersey to analyze real-world scenarios. The 1,000-acre model community consistsed of 272 acres of forest, 208 acres of old fields and agricultural-use non-forest habitat, and 320 houses. Of the residential area, 43 percent was forest, 45 percent was non-forest land such as lawns, and about 12 percent was pavement and buildings. (Image originally published in Schulze et al 2023, Journal of Medical Entomology)

Landscape management includes constructing fencing and creating xeric (dry) barriers of materials such as mulch or stone. Fencing costs ranged from $182 per acre for an electric fence to $243 to $600 per acre for a woven wire fence. Costs of xeric barriers ranged from $35 to $70 per square yard for mulch to $85 to $310 per square yard for river stone.

Host-focused acaricide products include the tick tubes, bait boxes, 4-poster devices. Schulze and colleagues estimated that tick tubes, which are small tubes filled with permethrin-treated material that rodents may collect for their nests, cost $300 per year per acre, and a two-deployment application would cost about $756 per year per acre. Bait boxes, which applies topical acaricide to rodents as they feed on bait, cost $50 each, with two deployments (at one box every 33 feet over the community’s nearly 282,000 feet of woodland edge) totaling $858,818 per year. The 4-poster device applies acaricide to deer as they feed on corn bait. The investigators estimated that it would cost $78,720 to treat the whole model community with 20 4-poster devices for one year. For habitat-focused acaricides, the investigators estimated that the cost to treat one acre of habitat with acaricide in the model community was $125 to $295.

Earlier studies by Schulze and Jordan and colleagues found that the use of synthetic acaricides and the use of 4-poster devices were effective in reducing ticks and were affordable. In the present study, Schulze and colleagues estimated that a two-component integrated tick-management program for the whole model community based on applications of synthetic acaricide to tick habitats combined with the use of 4-poster devices would cost $119,224 to $140,440 for the first year, with costs going down in subsequent years. This would amount to $373 to $439 per household. They estimated that adding bait boxes to create a three-component integrated tick-management program would increase the cost to $1,021,524 to $1,086,222 for the first year, which would amount to $3,192 to $3,394 per household.

Because deer are one of the hosts of blacklegged ticks, one way to try to reduce tick abundance is by reducing deer populations. White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) are overpopulated in many regions of the eastern U.S., including the New Jersey model community examined in this study. The current estimated deer density in Monmouth County is 44 deer per square kilometer. The target threshold for a healthy deer population is eight to 10 deer per square kilometer. Primary predators of deer in the eastern U.S., wolves and mountain lions, are no longer present. Sport hunting helps with deer population regulation, but at the high deer densities found in much of the eastern U.S., hunting is not sufficient to reverse deer overpopulation. Overpopulation can be solved, however, by having private companies use sharp shooters to harvest deer, the meat from which could then be donated to communities.

Schulze and colleagues reported that White Buffalo, a company that provides deer removal services, charges $270 to $525 per removed deer. To reach a target density of eight to 10 deer per square kilometer, 137 to 145 deer would have to be removed from the 1,000-acre model community, which would cost $36,990 to $76,125. The prospects for implementing this strategy on a community level are mixed. As Schulze and colleagues note, “While there may be an array of social and ecological justifications for community-wide deer control, community-based organized deer reduction programs are expensive to initiate and maintain, and, in light of substantial opposition from the public and local hunters, may be too controversial to be a viable tick management strategy.” Summarizing the feasibility of community-wide deer management, Jordan says, “deer population management is really not a practical solution except under special circumstances (e.g., on islands versus ecologically open situations).”

In addition to affordability, to be feasible, community-level tick management methods would have to be acceptable to the community, effective in reducing disease, and given adequate funding from managing agencies. “Sustainable funding (which does not currently exist) is imperative,” Jordan says.

In terms of community acceptance, safety concerns are sometimes expressed over applying synthetic acaricides to habitats. In a computer modeling study by Edward Hayes and colleagues, treatment of deer was the most effective way to control cases of Lyme disease. Treating deer thus offers the advantages of medical efficacy in reducing disease and of using acaricides in a more targeted way than applying them to the whole habitat, which may help garner community acceptance. In a recent study, researchers at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station gave the acaricide moxidectin on corn to wild white-tailed deer. They found elevated moxidectin in the blood of 83 percent of the deer captured following provision of the treated corn, and the captured deer with elevated moxidectin levels had fewer engorged ticks. Oral administration of acaricides to free-ranging deer is thus a promising potential community-level management tool and may be more cost effective than some other management alternatives.

Schulze and colleague’s Journal of Medical Entomology paper is the first study to comprehensively assess costs of community-level integrated tick management strategies. As such, it is an important step in determining relative costs of different management measures. “Using current control methods,” Jordan says, “community-based control in the ‘real world’ would be very expensive.”

More data are needed on the costs of individual methods, their effectiveness in reducing the incidence of tick-borne diseases, and the prospects for sustainable funding. Such data will be invaluable in helping inform optimization of potential community-level tick management in the future.

John P. Roche, Ph.D., is an author, biologist, and scientific writer with a Ph.D. in the biological sciences and a dedication to making rigorous science clear and accessible. He writes books and articles, and provides writing for universities, scientific societies, and publishers. Professional experience includes serving as a scientist and scientific writer at Indiana University, Boston College, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and as editor-in-chief of science periodicals at Indiana University and Boston College.

1 Comment »

  1. Entomology Today is an outstanding learning center. I read virtually every article from start to finish. And although I’m not an entomologist and live out west, the tick borne diseases of the east are worth my study. Keep up this great work!

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