To Fight Tick-Borne Disease, Someone Has To Catch Ticks
Most people try to avoid ticks. But not Tom Mather.
The University of Rhode Island researcher goes out of his way to find them.
He looks for deer ticks — poppy seed-sized skin burrowers — in the woods of southern Rhode Island. These are the teeny-tiny carriers of Lyme disease, an illness that can lead to symptoms ranging from nasty rashes to memory loss.
Mather's not having much trouble finding deer ticks. In fact, he just might be the best deer tick collector in the country. He caught 15,000 of them last year.
His success is a sign of a growing problem. Adult-sized deer ticks are thriving throughout much of the Northeast and parts of the Midwest.
Mather has a trim gray beard and a runner's build. He moves through the undergrowth with precision. He goes from one plant to another, sometimes plucking off ticks five at a time.
"You know. I can hold eight to 10 in my fingers and do it that way," Mather says. "If there is more than that, usually I will sort of touch the branch to my thigh and let the ticks crawl up on my leg and then I have a couple seconds to pick them before they start walking away."
Mather doesn't have to go into the deep woods to find ticks. A lot of times, he's practically in people's wooded backyards.
"People would be incredulous if they only knew," he says.
Article continues at NPR Topics: Environment
Deer Tick image via Shutterstock