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Fungus Might Keep You from Getting Lyme Disease

If you live in deer country, you live in tick country. And because you have dogs, that’s a problem. It can actually be a bigger problem for your own health. But if you’ve hesitated to spray your yard or property to keep ticks away because of the pesticides required, you’ll have a new option in a couple of years.

While testing a fungus for agricultural purposes, researchers discovered that it also kills blacklegged ticks, known as “deer ticks.” Metarhizium anisopliae is a natural soil fungus. One of the reasons it can be used as a yard spray is that it doesn’t affect beneficial creatures, such as earthworms, green lacewings and bees.

A new organic spray coming out in 2014 will help prevent ticks in yards. Photo by Monkey Business Images/Dreamstime.com.

Connecticut might be called the deer tick capital of the U.S., and that’s why trials of the fungus were done there by Kirby C. Stafford III, Ph.D., vice director and chief entomologist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station in New Haven. Stafford has studied a variety of methods for reducing ticks (Ixodes scapularis), and thus human exposure to Lyme disease, babesiosis (a malaria-like disease) and anaplasmosis (called ehrlichiosis in dogs). He literally wrote the handbook on ticks – the “Tick Management Handbook: An Integrated Guide for Homeowners, Pest Control Operators, and Public Health Officials for the Prevention of Tick-Associated Disease” – available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

Stafford says the fungus “will provide an alternative for people who do not wish to use chemical insecticides,” Stafford says. “Here in the northeast, there’s a growing organic land-care movement. There haven’t been a lot of options for people who want to control ticks organically.”

The tradeoff, he says, is that while it will be effective, it won’t be “quite as effective” as available pesticides.

The CDC reports that 20,000 to 30,000 people contract Lyme disease each year in the U.S. Including “probable cases,” those numbers jumped to 30,000 to nearly 40,000 cases between 2008 through 2010. If you’ve ever known someone with Lyme disease, you know how difficult it is to diagnose, treat and manage. If treated soon after exposure with antibiotics, recovery is likely. However, 10 to 20 percent of people go on to have post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome with persistent or recurring symptoms.

While we can easily use preventives on our dogs, our only defense is to spray our skin with DEET, wear boots, long pants and sleeves (possibly treated with permethrin), and, after each outing into tick-infested areas, check to see if any of the pests have ridden from the outdoors to the indoors on us.

Of course, the fungus, which will be in Tick-Ex, manufactured by Novozymes in Canada, won’t protect you in the woods while you’re exercising your dogs, letting your Terrier chase down critters or hunting. But it will help keep the dangerous pests off your property and out of your home and kennel. Novozymes currently makes Met52 using the same fungus. The product controls black vine weevil larvae and strawberry root weevil for the greenhouse and nursery industries.

In the U.S., Lyme disease is most prevalent in the Northeast and around the Great Lakes. To see a map of 2010 cases, click here.

The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station has investigated various methods of reducing tick populations, including landscaping changes, less-toxic pesticides, a parasitic wasp, deer exclusion and reduction, and “the application of small amounts of pesticide to white-tailed deer or reservoir hosts like white-footed mice and chipmunks,” according to the CAES website.

Written by

Susan Chaney has been on the editorial side of publishing since 1990, starting her career as a newspaper features writer and editor. A lifelong lover of dogs, Susan has lived with German Shepherds, Labs, Yorkies, an Irish Setter, a Great Dane-Bloodhound mix, a Sheltie and currently a Chihuahua mix of unknown pedigree. She was the editor of Dog Fancy magazine, content editor of DogChannel.com and group editor of Dog World, Dogs USA, Puppies USA, Natural Dog, Cat Fancy, Cats USA and Kittens USA from March 2005 to December 2009 when she left her position to work at home, part-time. Susan lives in Long Beach, Calif., with her artist husband, Tim, that Chi mix and two big cats. As an editor and writer for Best In Show Daily, she is reveling in the amalgam of three loves: writing, editing and dogs.