The scientific basis for tick spraying? Zilcho

As first reported by your faithful blogger nearly two years ago, your all-Republican Loudoun Board of Supervisors, in its zeal to suck up to the crazy loon faction of the local GOP headed by fundamentalist evolution-denier home-schooler Lyme-disease-obsessive “Chancellor” “Dr.” Michael Farris of Purcellville’s Patrick Henry Bible College, rushed out a completely unscientific “action plan” to “combat” Lyme disease being promoted by Farris and his fellow quacks.

As we noted then, the Board’s plan to spray dangerous pesticides in county parks was not only idiotic from an environmental standpoint but completely useless from a public health standpoint in preventing Lyme disease transmission.

So the Board went ahead and for the last two years sprayed dangerous pesticides in a handful of county parks anyway, despite objections from beekeepers, environmentally knowledgeable experts, and even the county’s own public health officer.

Now two years later the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy has produced a thoroughly documented, exhaustively researched report reiterating these same points (though perhaps expressing them a bit more tactfully than Realloudoun is wont to)

— that there is no scientific evidence that spraying a few parks does anything to prevent Lyme disease;

— that it may actually have the opposite effect by creating a false sense of security;

— that the most effective prevention measure is personal protection by using insect repellants containing DEET;

— that the pesticide being used is highly toxic to bees and fish and is a potential human carcinogen;

— and that virtually no other jurisdictions, including state and federal parks in regions with much higher Lyme disease rates, employ pesticide spraying, recognizing its scientific worthlessness.

Typical is the statement from New York State Bureau of Communicable Disease Control: “We do not see large scale spraying of large swaths of public land for two reasons. One is the cost and the second is that it is not that effective.” Actual scientific studies assessing the effectiveness of spraying found — unsurprisingly, given how many ticks there are out there and how many opportunities people have to encounter them — that spraying resulted in literally no decrease in tick encounters or infection rates.

You can read the full report here.

(One note: the report, while very well done, does err in one place in perhaps unwittingly reinforcing the false and hysterical claims made by the local Lyme loonies that Loudoun has one of the highest Lyme rates in the country etc etc etc. The report makes an elementary statistical error in comparing Loudoun’s incidence rate to that of other entire states. A more valid comparison is to other areas of similar geographic size or population. And in fact, if you compare Loudoun to other counties in high Lyme areas in the northeast, Loudoun’s 219 cases last  year (out of a population of over 300,000) places Loudoun’s incidence rate at less than 1/10 that of Columbia County, NY; 1/5 that of Dutchess County, NY; and less than 1/3 that of numerous counties throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, and New England.)

By the way, the most idiotic thing about the all-Republican Loudoun Board’s spraying program is the total failure even to assess whether spraying had any effect on tick populations: as the LWC report notes, there has been zero follow-up by the county—they just go in and hose down some parks and feel like they’ve done something.

In other words, it’s really just been all about PR and spin and political posturing, and nothing about effective or responsible policy.