Are Deer to Blame for the Spread of Lyme Disease?

Are Deer to Blame for the Spread of Lyme Disease?

Public health officials in areas plagued by Lyme disease long assumed that because the black-legged “deer” tick is the main vector involved in its spread, lowering whitetail density would lower the risk of human infection. But recent research casts doubt on the benefits of drastically cutting deer numbers. A more effective way to fight Lyme disease, it appears, is to increase the number of small-mammal predators, especially foxes.

A study by researchers in the Netherlands suggests that where fox numbers remain high, mice, voles, chipmunks and shrews that host Lyme-infected ticks are less active outside their burrows and aren’t as likely to pick up ticks carrying the bacterial disease. That translates to less Lyme transmission.

Foxes are the primary native predators of these small mammals. However, in eastern North America the overall number of foxes has dropped in recent decades, due to a huge increase in coyotes. Where coyotes are abundant, foxes aren’t. While coyotes eat some small mammals, they’re far less efficient at limiting their activity.

Named for Old Lyme, Connecticut, the site of its discovery in 1981, Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burdorferi. Many deer hunters have contracted it from ticks. Common symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue and a skin rash called erythema migrans. If untreated, Lyme can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system. In extreme cases, death from heart failure has been documented.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 95 percent of Lyme cases in humans are from one of 14 states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin. (Note, however, that case locations reflect victims’ residences, not necessarily locations in which the disease was contracted.)


Recommended for You

Whether you cook it around a smoldering campfire or over a charcoal grill, this Braai'ed Deer Heart Recipe is a good one to add to your after-the-hunt rituals. Venison Recipes

Braai'ed (Grilled) Deer Heart Recipe

Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley

Whether you cook it around a smoldering campfire or over a charcoal grill, this Braai'ed Deer...

Here's how to crack the summer code. Early Season

3 Types of Late-Summer Bucks & How to Hunt Them

Garrett Tucker

Here's how to crack the summer code.

Check out some of the most innovative products hitting shelves this summer! Bowhunting

Best New 2019 Crossbow Accessories

Laden Force - July 02, 2019

Check out some of the most innovative products hitting shelves this summer!

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

North American Whitetail - South of the Border

North American Whitetail - South of the Border

Dr. James Kroll and Pat Hogan head south of the border in pursuit of whitetails in old Mexico.

Alternative Season Whitetail Hunt

Alternative Season Whitetail Hunt

Mike Clerkin is hunting the alternative weapon whitetail season in Missouri with his S&W revolver.

Gordon

Gordon's First NAW Hunt

This segment features Gordon Whittington's very first on camera hunt for North American Whitetail.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

To hear many serious trophy bowhunters tell it, Kentucky must be a figment of someone's fertile United States

Best Spots for Bowhunting Kentucky Trophy Bucks

Gordon Whittington - July 21, 2016

To hear many serious trophy bowhunters tell it, Kentucky must be a figment of someone's...

Improve the nutritional benefits that your land offers local deer. Land Management

No Matter the Season, Deer Orchard Work Brings Big Benefits to Whitetails

Lynn Burkhead - June 27, 2019

Improve the nutritional benefits that your land offers local deer.

Fill your quiver with the right ammo this season. Bowhunting

The Best Arrows for Deer Hunting

Tony J. Peterson - June 10, 2019

Fill your quiver with the right ammo this season.

See More Stories

More Conservation

Epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) and its relative, bluetongue, are transmitted to whitetails by Conservation

Why Drought Isn't the Only Factor in Deer EHD

Gordon Whittington - February 14, 2018

Epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) and its relative, bluetongue, are transmitted to...

South Carolina had been the last holdout against a statewide season bag limit on whitetail bucks. Conservation

Major Changes For South Carolina Hunting

Gordon Whittington - November 15, 2017

South Carolina had been the last holdout against a statewide season bag limit on whitetail...

Thumb through a western South Dakota hunting atlas and you'll find a splatter of colors showing Conservation

History of School Lands for Public Hunting

Spencer Neuharth - September 19, 2018

Thumb through a western South Dakota hunting atlas and you'll find a splatter of colors...

See More Conservation

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction

SUBSCRIBE NOW

Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services

PREVIEW THIS MONTH'S ISSUE

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.