By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — A new backyard contraption designed to kill ticks on the backs of mice could prove a powerful weapon against Lyme disease.
The contraption — developed by government scientists and a subsidiary of pharmaceutical giant Aventis — consists of bait boxes designed to lure the rodents that harbor the Lyme disease bacteria.
As mice pass through the child- and pet-proof boxes, an oily wick coats their shoulders with the same potent tick-killing compound used to protect dogs and cats.
The Maxforce Tick Management System is touted by maker Aventis Environmental Science of Montvale as capable of killing nearly all ticks around a home within a year or two.
The idea is to break the cycle of infection: Ticks pick up Lyme disease bacteria from rodents and spread the germ to humans. Roughly 75 percent of people who get Lyme disease are infected in their own yards.
The bait boxes must be installed and replaced periodically by trained exterminators, at a cost of $300 to $600 a year.
The boxes are spaced along the edge of yards, where ticks and the mice and chipmunks on which they feed lurk among brush and trees.
“It’s absolutely brilliant,” said Leslie Cummin, a landscape architect living on a once tick-infested Connecticut island where Aventis and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tested the product. “After four years, we don’t have any ticks.”
Cummin’s waterfront home and the rest of Masons Island off Mystic, Conn., had so many ticks that Lyme disease was common among the 400 residents. Nightly “tick checks” were a ritual.
Within a few years of moving there a decade ago, Cummin, her husband and one son all got the disease, which begins with flulike symptoms and often a bull’s-eye rash. They were cured with antibiotics, but untreated Lyme disease can cause long-term joint inflammation and nerve damage.
In 1999, CDC scientists began field testing bait boxes with fipronil, an insecticide patented by Aventis.
A 10-acre test plot where 125 boxes were spread had 80 percent fewer ticks than an untreated area after a year; after the second year, there were 96 percent fewer.
“This will be potentially a very useful tool for preventing Lyme disease,” said Dr. Ned Hayes of the CDC’s Lyme disease program, which now is studying whether the bait boxes reduce Lyme disease in people.
Cases of Lyme disease, named for the Connecticut town where it was discovered in 1977, have been rising in the Northeast, where it is most common. In 2000, nearly 18,000 U.S. cases were reported.
Dr. Leonard Sigal, director of the Lyme Disease Center at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick and medical director at the American Lyme Disease Foundation, said the system makes sense.
“You’re targeting the problem and you’re not spraying chemicals all over the galaxy,” he said.
Sigal said the boxes needs to be tested in other neighborhoods and other climates. And he recommended people continue to take other precautions, such as clearing brush, using insect repellent and showering after being outdoors.
On the Net:
American Lyme Disease Foundation: http://www.aldf.com
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/lyme/index.htm