Lyme disease has become one of the fastest growing epidemics to date. The incidence of tick-borne disease throughout the country has doubled since 1991. Nationally, the CDC estimates about 300,000 cases of Lyme disease are diagnosed annually. According to the CDC, in 2014, 96 percent of confirmed Lyme disease cases were reported from 14 states – one of which was Rhode Island. In response, the CDC’s NIOSH division, which works to prevent workplace illnesses and injuries, awarded a federal grant worth $2,039,000 to study Lyme disease prevention and exposure among outdoor workers. Throughout the next four years field studies will be conducted testing the effectiveness of long lasting permethrin-impregnated (LLPI) clothing treated with Insect Shield Repellent Technology for outdoor workers.

Dr. Thomas Mather, Director of the Center for Vector-Borne Disease at the University of Rhode Island (URI)  and University of North Carolina (UNC) epidemiologist Dr. Steven Meshnick, will lead the team in researching whether long-lasting permethrin treatment is a viable strategy for reducing tick-borne diseases, particularly Lyme disease, among outdoor workers. The results of the investigation could help workers determine the best type of personal protective equipment and work practices to employ to protect against ticks and tick-borne illnesses.  According to the CDC’s grant announcement: “If successful, the research could provide strong and much needed evidence that the long-lasting treatment of clothing with permethrin results in significant reductions in tick-borne diseases.”

A 2011 pilot study conducted by researchers at The University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health reported that the incidence of tick attachments was reduced by 93 percent (99 percent during working hours) among workers wearing Insect Shield Repellent apparel. The report was published online March 11 in the journal Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases.

Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, a Lyme Disease Awareness advocate, has called for a national strategy to combat Lyme disease and expand federal research efforts to increase Lyme surveillance and prevention.  “Tick borne diseases pose serious public health challenges,” says Senator Reed. “We want people to enjoy the great outdoors, but we also want them to be safe and aware of what they can do to protect themselves and their families. I am working to boost federal research and coordination to help prevent Lyme disease and strengthen surveillance of tick-borne illnesses.  This new grant is a smart investment that will enable Dr. Mather and his colleagues to field test tick repellent clothing and better understand the best and safest ways to protect people, particularly folks who spend a great deal of time outdoors, from tick bites,” adds Reed.

Reed has also cosponsored the Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Prevention, Education, and Research Act of 2015, which aims to help ensure the necessary resources are dedicated to fighting tick-borne diseases throughout the country.  The legislation would place greater federal focus on research, education, and outreach to individuals and families, and coordination among health professionals and government agencies.  Last year, Reed, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, helped secure $23 million for the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for Lyme disease research grants.

“There just are more ticks in more places these days,” said Dr. Thomas Mather. “Ticks and the infections they carry, like Lyme disease, are a largely unmet public health crisis. There is an urgent need for research on actionable prevention strategies that are easy for people at risk to adopt,” he added. “Safe and effective tick repellent clothing could make tick bite protection as easy as getting dressed in the morning,” Mather explained.