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Lyme disease threat in U.S. city parks

Christian Fernsby |
As deer populations have exploded across America, moving from forests to suburbs to urban parks, they have brought the threat of Lyme disease to millions of city dwellers, a new study finds.

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In fact, the deer tick that spreads Lyme disease is as prevalent in many New York City parks as it is in areas known to be endemic for the bacterial disease, such as Connecticut and other states in the Northeast.

"Where deer are able to survive and thrive, we expect to see ticks and we did," said lead researcher Meredith VanAcker. She is a graduate student in the department of ecology, evolution and environmental biology at Columbia University in New York City.

"What was surprising was that although tick populations in these parks increased in the recent past, we see the same level of infection in these urban tick populations as we do in endemic areas," she said.

That means people have the same risk of getting Lyme disease in some city parks as they do in suburban and rural landscapes, VanAcker said.

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, and is transmitted by the bite of the tiny black-legged tick -- also known as the deer tick. These ticks are about the size of a poppyseed.

Deer don't infect ticks with the bacteria that causes Lyme. Rather, birds and small mammals are the culprit, VanAcker explained. The deer simply provide the tick with a home to breed and grow.


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