Prevention of tick-borne diseases

Mary Elizabeth Wilson
Medical Clinics of North America 2002, 86 (2): 219-38
Ticks are a part of the landscape where humans live, work, and play. Because ticks carry a wide range of organisms that potentially can cause disease in humans, many studies have focused on ways to reduce risk of these diseases. Ticks have biologically complex interactions with microorganisms and with their vertebrate hosts, on whom they depend for blood meals and survival. To consider ways to reduce the burden of tick-borne diseases in humans, it is necessary to understand the biology and ecology of ticks and their interface with humans. In many areas, changes in land use, reforestation, and patterns of human settlements have led to more abundant tick populations, increasing rates of infections in ticks, and increasing contact with human populations. Warmer winter temperatures in temperate regions may extend the transmission season for some ticks and pathogens. Although much of the discussion in this article has focused on I. scapularis and the Lyme disease spirochete (because they have been studied extensively), other tick-pathogen pairs may differ in risk factors for infection and transmission dynamics. Interventions studied to reduce the burden of tick-borne diseases include changing the environment, controlling vertebrate hosts, killing ticks, altering the behavior of humans, treating tick bites, and trying to protect humans through immunologic means (vaccine). All of these approaches have limitations and drawbacks. From a public health perspective, a plan that employs multiple strategies may be most effective. This article has reviewed what is known about preventive interventions, including the vaccine.

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