How Can We Beat Lyme Disease? Restore Biodiversity.

by lmatthews on March 7, 2013

lyme disease pushes northwards acorn and mouse

Could restoring biodiversity drive down Lyme disease cases?

New research suggests that the rampant spread of Lyme disease may be checked by restoring biodiversity. More pesticides, brush clearing, deer hunting and so on could simply increase the problem while re-establishing a stable ecosystem could hold the rates of infection in check.

Fighting Back Against Lyme Disease

Senior research specialist and ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, Kelly Oggenfuss, is keen to get the word out that biodiversity is a public health issue and that policy makers should pay attention. Rather than concentrating on vaccine development, treatments for Lyme disease, acaricides and other top-down, symptomatic control methods, it could be that helping nature manage itself again is the best weapon we have against Lyme disease.

How Biodiversity Helps Beat Lyme Disease

How would biodiversity help keep Lyme disease in check? The infection is carried by ticks that require animal hosts and the tendency is for these host animals to prevail whenever biodiversity declines. What this means is that when the variety and depth of animal and plant life in any given area declines the tick-carrying, host animals such as white-footed mice are usually the ones seen to do well. This leads to a larger risk of human exposure to these animals and, therefore, ticks and the bacteria have a ready supply of hosts in which to multiply.

Biodiversity as Public Health Policy

The greater the diversity of animal species, the lower the risk of human cases of Lyme disease; a conclusion reached by a growing number of research papers and one to which Oggenfuss would like more public health officials to pay attention. How local councils would go about implementing a biodiversity strategy for Lyme disease prevention is still open to debate but with the number of cases rising year on year it seems wise to use every tool available to halt the spread of the infection.

Reference


Ostfeld, R.S., C.D. Canham, K., Oggenfuss, R.J., Winchcombe, ad F. Keesing, 2006, Climate, deer, rodents, and acorns as determinants of variation in Lyme disease risk, PLoS Biology, 4:1058-1068.

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