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CROSSVILLE, Tenn. — A drug dispensed in deer food has reduced the threat of human disease from ticks, a University of Tennessee scientist said Wednesday.

The project by Dr. Reid Gerhardt, a UT entomologist, has reduced by six times the tick reproduction near Cumberland County’s Fairfield Glade community.

The area was hit in 1993 by an outbreak of a rare, tick-borne disease known as ehrlichiosis, Gerhardt said. The disease is believed to be transmitted by a parasite known as the lone star tick.

The disease causes fever, headache and nausea, Gerhardt said.

Because deer are major carriers of ticks, Gerhardt last spring in deer-feeding areas set out corn laced with ivermectin, a drug which kills ticks but does not harm deer. A follow-up this year showed marked reduction in immature ticks which hatch in the late summer and fall, Gerhardt said.

“These results demonstrate that this technology has very real potential for breaking the life cycle of ticks and reducing the overall numbers of ticks,” Gerhardt said.

The project was partially funded by the Fairfield Glade Community Club and the UT Agricultural Experiment Station. Gerhardt worked with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the project.

Gerhardt said tick infestation among humans is rising in Tennessee because of deer-repopulation programs, farm areas returning to woodlands, and more people moving into wooded areas and subdivisions.

“The conditions in the state are such that the tick problems in Tennessee are going to get worse and worse as the years go by,” Gerhardt said. “More people are moving back out into a rural setting, and they are coming more in contact with wildlife and the ticks that are associated with them.”

Contact: Dr. Reid Gerhardt (615-974-7135)