The attempts by some to correlate high deer numbers with incidents of Lyme disease, reflects merely a notorious false fixation on deer as the culprit of causing this infectious disease. It may be convenient to perpetuate the myth of deer causing Lyme disease, but this perception is neither supported by scientific research, nor is it helpful in finding ways to prevent the outbreaks and helping those impacted by the disease.
Incorrectly labeled “deer tick” in the 1980s, it is actually the black-legged tick, that bites various species of mammals, birds and reptiles — not just deer. Ticks feeding on mice survive well and are highly likely to become infected with the Lyme disease bacterium (Borrelia burgdorferi). The positive correlation then is between white-footed mice and abundance of ticks. In other words, an increase of mice following an increase in nutritious and abundant acorns produced by oak trees, and secondly, the loss of diversity of key small predators, such as red foxes are at the root of the problem. This was confirmed most recently in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U. S., which found no correlation across four states between deer abundance and Lyme disease incidents. Instead, the study pointed toward a range-wide decline of a key small-mammal predator, including red foxes, as a main force facilitating infectious diseases such as Lyme disease.
Allowing hunters to kill more deer, is the wrong approach that will not cause fewer ticks. “Forget about the deer,” is what Dr. Cameron, chief author of the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society at the time of his New York Times article in 2009. Instead, we can greatly benefit from self-checks after being outdoors, taking precautions, including wearing light-colored clothing, tucking in sleeves and socks, using tick-repelling products on our skin and insecticidal sprays on properties, among other ways of reducing contact with ticks.
In addition, we are much better off protecting remaining large tracts of forests and protecting biodiversity including foxes, coyotes, weasels, owls, hawks, as biodiversity protects our health.