Over the past year, I have read many articles and editorials in the local Vineyard papers regarding the number of deer on Martha’s Vineyard, Lyme disease, and more recently, the discovery of new type Lone Star ticks here. All are written with care and by well-informed individuals. Many of my friends, family and Vineyard acquaintances have been infected with Lyme at one time or another and some have been afflicted with other tick-borne diseases. Many have had painful and debilitating experiences, while others have been more fortunate being cured by timely treatment with antibiotics.

Articles mention deer as a carrier for ticks and the relatively high population of deer on our Island. Despite all the current efforts, it appears that the number of human cases will escalate unless something is done. This disease also takes a similar toll on our livestock and pets, which presents an additional financial and emotional burden.

The Island is fortunate to have such a large number of dedicated physicians, conservationists, biologists, and civic leaders. They have offered both good educational information and treatment plans and made these available to the general public. The boards of health and physicians have put together excellent video and print media relating to the prevention and treatment of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.

Now some of the attention should turn toward the other tick borne diseases such as babesia and ehrlichia, which can also be transmitted by deer ticks and induce illness in tandem with Lyme disease. Our Island and neighboring areas are faced with a full-blown epidemic of these diseases. Accordingly, we need to plan and act. We need to engage the public and to spell out what the adverse medical implications are for allowing the deer population to continue to expand unchecked. We need to interrupt the life cycle of the deer tick in white-footed mice and deer. Several nearby communities have depleted the size of their deer herds and noted decreases in tick-related disease. Perhaps the time is now ripe for such a stance to be taken by our Island community.

I have a great respect for nature and fully respect the views of those who may wish to leave the status quo alone. Comments such as “I have always got by in the past — we have antibiotics available . . . . so why not leave well alone” may appear appropriate. But all is not well and the status quo is not satisfactory. There are those among us who have had awful chronic manifestations of Lyme or other equally debilitating tick-borne diseases. Recent articles in the scientific literature as well as newspapers in Rhode Island add to the urgency of confronting this medical epidemic. One recent story appeared in the Providence Journal (Dec. 29, 2015) where we learned that deer tick-borne babesia and ehrlichia can be transmitted by blood transfusion. As a result in Rhode Island, all blood will now be screened for babesia prior to its use. This added expensive safety procedure is also being adopted in other states within the nation.

We also have to consider what tick diseases may fully represent to us as a community in the present and for the future. What is the economic impact of the cost to our tourist, rental and real estate community, for tending to our livestock, horse farms and pets, to the landscaping costs from foraging damage, and of course our medical insurance costs; all related to ticks and associated with the expanding numbers of deer.

I believe now is the time for all views on this subject to be openly and honestly discussed, with full respect being given to all views and opinions. A candid debate is now called for as to how and to what extent the deer herd needs and should be culled. A decision also needs to be made as to whether to embrace other approaches including anti-fertility strategies for the deer, and whether to extend any overall strategy to include the white-footed mice, the major reservoir for the source of Lyme disease.

We need to learn from the experiences of other nearby communities, to develop a consensus within our Island community for a potential plan to reduce the deer herd, and to design a plan where the outcome is considered sustainable. Such conversations need to be conducted with clarity and in an open manner. A well-formulated plan developed here on Martha’s Vineyard is now paramount. If successfully designed and implemented, it could be used as a blueprint for other nearby towns and communities. It most likely will require state input and resources. What we decide could be emulated throughout the nation.

David J. Morris, Ph.D., is emeritus professor of pathology at Alpert Medical School at Brown University in Providence, R.I. He owns a home in Vineyard Haven.