ACADIA NATIONAL PARK — The prevalence of Lyme and other diseases transmitted by deer ticks is being explored in a pilot study being led by Acadia National Park at sites across Mount Desert Island. The study represents the first time in 20 years that park officials have sought information on the local tick population.
Impetus for the study grew from the work of the deer herd control task force, a group of residents, state and ANP biologists tasked with investigating deer herd management options. The task force this summer recommended opening Bar Harbor to a highly-regulated deer hunt as a remedy to increasing car-deer accidents, landscape damage and Lyme disease. The latter is transmitted to humans through the bite of a deer tick. Reported cases have skyrocketed in Hancock County and across Maine in recent years.
“In the push to decide whether deer should be managed, one of the questions is, how have ticks changed?” Acadia biologist Bruce Connery said. “We are trying to get away from the misconstrued ideas of what’s out there and get real facts out there, instead of ‘what if.’”
Park officials last looked at ticks in the early 1990s, when they partnered with Maine Medical Center (MMC) on a survey. At the time, out of nearly 30 sampling sites, they found ticks with Lyme disease at just two locations in the park: the Hulls Cove visitor center and the area around Sand Beach. No tick-borne illnesses besides Lyme disease were discovered here.
The current survey, which began this spring, is expected to find a greater incidence of Lyme disease in the park, as well as other illnesses that are now just emerging in the state, such as babesiosis and anaplasmosis. The latter, Connery said, are suspected to be carried by 1 to 2 percent of ticks here, “which would be a huge change in less than 20 years.”
College of the Atlantic, MMC and the Maine Centers for Disease Control are partnering with the park on the pilot study. Plans are to submit grant applications this fall in hopes of launching a much wider look at local tick populations.
In the early 1990s, Lyme disease was just beginning to emerge in the state. According to figures collected by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) there were 180 new cases of Lyme disease in the state in 1993. By 2012, the estimated number jumped to 11,110. The CDC multiplies the number of reported cases by ten to get their estimate.