I write to respond to increasing concern about the spread of Lyme disease and a purported connection to the deer population on Martha’s Vineyard. While Lyme disease is indeed a terrible disease, it is crucial to understand that a cull of the deer population will not eliminate the risk of contracting Lyme disease.

Importantly, studies show that culling deer does not reduce the human incidence of Lyme disease. Deer hunting is ineffective at controlling Lyme disease, because it does not reduce the tick population. Leading Lyme expert Richard Ostfeld correlates Lyme exposure to rodent hosts and food resources: rodents are the most effective carriers of Lyme, whereas deer are among the most ineffective. Deer are what is known as dead-end hosts: they can’t get the disease and they don’t spread the disease to other animals.

No major health organization, including the CDC, has identified hunting as an effective means to address Lyme disease. In fact, studies have indicated that some of the most effective solutions use living wildlife hosts themselves to kill the ticks. Bait attractants apply a treatment (which are similar to topical flea and tick protection for companion animals) to the deer or mice as they eat. This method been shown to reduce tick populations by 67 per cent to 98 per cent.

While many argue that bait attractants can be costly, killing deer is virtually useless. According to Dr. Tamara Awerbuch of the Harvard School of Public Health, reducing deer populations doesn’t equate to killing ticks. By the time hunting season occurs, adult ticks have already dropped off of the deer, leaving their eggs elsewhere. Since the ticks’ reproductive cycle isn’t interrupted, hunts are rendered useless, and ticks continue to thrive. A deer hunt, while “less expensive,” is a false solution that has no impact on Lyme-carrying ticks.

It is easy to blame the deer population for the spread of Lyme disease, but truth and science do not support that misguided notion. Hunting deer is not a viable solution to the problem, and without a real solution, tick-borne illnesses on the Vineyard will continue to occur. There are no winners when deer are targeted in the pursuit against Lyme disease.

Laura Hagen

The writer is deputy director of advocacy for the MSPCA.