Introducing Cougars to Stop Lyme Disease Spread?

Lyme disease is an infectious disease that includes symptoms that resemble the flu, it is typically acquired through a tick bite. Each year, around 30,000 cases of lyme disease are reported to the CDC, however researchers estimate that 10 times that amount is the actual number of cases. This is most likely because not every person who contracts Lyme disease displays the symptoms. Within recent decades, Lyme disease has become more and more common, increasing more than 10 times in certain places such as Virginia and Michigan. Lyme disease is very treatable with antibiotics, even if diagnosed later; however scientist want to lower the percentages of contracting the disease as this would be an even better way of battling the disease that has become the greatest vector-born disease in the United States.

The rise in Lyme disease frequency is speculated to be because of the environment. Ticks are the medium for the disease, they get it from the hosts they feed on, which are mostly chipmunks and mice. These rodents have natural predators such as weasels. Unfortunately, because of the high number of deer and their tendency to deplete the understory of forests, weasels numbers have decreased significantly. With their natural predators gone, rodents are allowed to live and reproduce more freely. And as a result, Lyme disease is also allowed to spread more easily.

A hypothetical solution, suggested by a Dr. Levi from Oregon State University, is to introduce cougars to areas with large numbers of Lyme disease. Cougars could live on the outskirts of human habitats and not affect humans too greatly. The plan is for cougars to hunt deer; by reducing the deer population, weasels and similar rodent predators can return to the area and do what they do best, less rodents mean less hosts for ticks.

Image result for lyme disease cougars

Dr. Levi also suggests that diversity could also help the Lyme disease issue. Some animals, such at the opossum, groom themselves often and are excellent at removing ticks. These animals could help reduce the number of ticks and Lyme disease.

The real question is what will the general public think about this suggestion. Typically people are afraid of wild cats. However, less than 30 people have been killed by cougars in the past 125 years, so it is unlikely that cougar attacks become a daily issue. I think that if the deer population was reduced by cougars, there would also be other benefits. An example is the amount of car accidents involving deer would decrease greatly. Small animals also seem to commonly be disease carriers so if their natural predators could return if there were less deer, then other diseases would also be less prevalent. A controlled trial might be the best way to test this hypothesis, before moving onto large scale experiments.


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