November 10, 2021
People who enjoy parks and trails in Chapel Hill and surrounding areas should be on the lookout for ticks, according to recent findings from epidemiology researchers at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.
A survey of local parks and green spaces in Chapel Hill and Carrboro over the summer has identified multiple species of ticks in areas used for everyday activities, including trails, tennis courts, a baseball field and other grassy places where people and animals might play. Tick exposure often comes to mind while camping or hiking in the woods, especially in warmer weather, but many people do not expect to encounter ticks in municipal recreational areas.
Wesley Cochran, a Master of Public Health student working this summer with Assistant Professor Ross Boyce, MD, MSc, and Associate Professor Michael Reiskind, PhD, MPH, from NC State University, identified ticks in Carrboro’s Wilson Park and Anderson Community Park in grassy areas near parking lots, tennis courts and baseball dugouts. He also spotted ticks in Chapel Hill’s Merritt’s Pasture and Pritchard Park Trail near the Chapel Hill Public Library.
“While this is a relatively small study, I think it’s important for people in the Chapel Hill community to be mindful of ticks when they plan an activity or an event in these recreational spaces,” Boyce said. “I think we all expect to find them in more rural settings like state parks, but the findings here suggest that ticks can come close to home, too. By no means is this intended to scare folks or keep them away from these beautiful spaces, but awareness is key.”
According to Boyce, it’s very difficult to control tick populations due to their ability to travel on hosts like deer and birds. Therefore, preventing a high-risk exposure – one where a tick is attached for an extended period – is most important. The CDC recommends treating clothing with permethrin, but Boyce says the best thing people can do is check their bodies for ticks when they get home.
While researchers did not test for pathogens, bites from ticks like the ones identified in the study – Gulf Coast and Lone Star ticks – can be vectors of diseases like ehrlichiosis and spotted fever rickettsiosis, as well as Alpha-gal syndrome – an allergy to red meat and other mammalian food products.
Boyce and Reiskind plan to use the findings as a baseline for further surveys of the area every spring and summer with the intent of monitoring for changes in tick populations and distributions.
Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at firstname.lastname@example.org.