Most people who contract Lyme disease do so in their backyard. Dr. Neeta Connally, assistant professor of biology at Western Connecticut State University (WCSU), is examining how people can reshape their backyards to prevent Lyme disease infection. This is especially important for Connecticut residents as The Nutmeg State ranks in the Top 10 for new Lyme disease cases every year. “We are at ground zero for ticks,” Dr. Connally says.
“WCSU is centrally located in Fairfield County, from where the state’s greatest number of Lyme disease cases are reported each year. WCSU’s position was so appealing to me exactly because of its location in a tick hotspot,” says Dr. Connally. “Relocation would severely reduce my ability to be productive in my scholarly field, as I collaborate with Yale, the Connecticut Department of Public Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on various projects that specifically target ticks and homeowners located in this Lyme-endemic region of Connecticut.”
Dr. Connally’s focus on the backyard stems from her ongoing interest in what methods of Lyme disease prevention are the most effective. “There’s still work to be done to find out which measures are the best and how can get people to incorporate them into their lives,” she said. With the assistance of CSU-AAUP and Board of Regents (BOR) grant funding, Dr. Connally has been able to include students in her research and travel to in-state health fairs to survey Lyme disease prevention barriers, as well as internationally to present her and her WCSU students’ findings.
Ticks typically pick up the bacteria that cause Lyme disease after biting mice, their preferred prey in the “nymph” or juvenile part of their life, so Dr. Connally is focusing on finding ways to stop ticks from biting mice. This includes testing the efficacy of “bait boxes,” which lure mice in and introduce them to a tick-killing treatment, much like the preventative treatment given to dogs. Although their ability to stop the spread of Lyme disease has not yet been fully established, Connally is very optimistic. “If we can target the ticks that are feeding on mice, we can probably really help reduce disease in humans,” she said.