Ticks’ stealth and human nature hamper Lyme-disease prevention

Laurie Bent (left) dressed in light clothing to avoid tick bites during a walk with Emily Hutcheson and Bent’s dog.
Laurie Bent (left) dressed in light clothing to avoid tick bites during a walk with Emily Hutcheson and Bent’s dog.Essadras M Suarez / Globe Staff

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Efforts to keep ticks and people apart have foundered, even as Lyme has emerged as the second most commonly reported infectious disease in New England.

This regional epidemic has yet to trigger a broad public health response on par with prevention strategies for other pervasive illnesses. That is partly because ticks are a devious foe. Vacation spots are also loath to publicize the threat, and the public and politicians often don’t perceive Lyme as a serious malady. The result is a lopsided spending gap between prevention efforts for tick- and mosquito-borne illnesses.

Ticks have stealth on their side. Small as a pinhead, they don’t buzz in warning and their bite is painless. Woven through our backyards, soccer fields, and hiking trails, they are far more challenging to eliminate than mosquitoes.

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