The controversy over chemical use and deer control

The most effective way for a suburban homeowner to reduce risk for tick bites significantly has been, and still is, the environmental application of insecticides (Barbour and Fish, 1993; Mount, 1993; Gern and Falco, 2000). However, there has been reluctance on the part of residents and some public health officials to advocate and implement chemical control due to environmental concerns (Stafford, 1991; Sonenshine, 1993; Golaine, 1992). The aversion to the use of chemicals, even those that have been approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency for use in residential areas, has had a negative impact on efforts to prevent Lyme disease in endemic areas. However, due to the high prevalence of Lyme disease in suburban areas of the northeast, the benefit of reduced tick abundance through annual insecticide applications to lawns may outweigh potential environmental concerns (Barbour and Fish, 1993).

Although chemical control continues to be the most effective way of killing I. scapularis ticks and reducing Lyme disease risk in the residential landscape, it will do little to curb risk at a population level if a large segment of the at-risk population does not use it. Changing people's attitudes towards the use of pesticides, even relatively safe and effective ones used to mitigate a credible public health risk, is a challenge that goes beyond the scope of vector control. Environmental concerns regarding chemical use can be expected to continue and even accelerate, with intense pressure on government, the private sector, and the scientific community to develop environmentally sound, practical alternatives (Sonenshine, 1993).

Another controversial approach to preventing Lyme disease involves the reduction of tick populations through deer management. Controlling I. scapularis by reducing or eliminating deer beyond traditional deer management practices, such as routine hunting, has been studied and may be effective in some circumstances (Wilson et al, 1984, 1988; Deblinger et al, 1993, Telford, 1993). However, it would be difficult to maintain deer densities at a low enough level to have a significant impact on tick populations (Stafford et al., 2003). Furthermore, such practices have become increasingly socially distasteful, and their large-scale implementation is unlikely, particularly in suburban residential settings (Stafford, 1993; Wilson and Deblinger 1993). As long as the "hunt" versus "no hunt" debate centers on the fundamental values of each side rather than on biology, as it so often does (McShea et al., 1997), Lyme disease prevention through any type of host control is unlikely.

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