The University of Maine will receive $6.2 million in federal funding to research ways to control tick populations, identify emerging tick species and expand public health efforts as Lyme disease cases have reached record-high levels in Maine. 

The funding was part of the federal omnibus spending bill approved by Congress last week and awaiting the signature of President Biden. Maine’s U.S. senators, Republican Susan Collins, and independent Angus King pushed for the funding amid the state’s high number of Lyme disease cases, a bacterial infection transmitted by the deer tick.

Maine has reported nearly 2,600 cases of Lyme disease through Dec. 27, according to the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That exceeds 2021 cases by more than 1,000 and surpasses the previous record of 2,167 reported cases in 2019.

Lyme disease rebounded sharply in Maine this year after two years of reduced case numbers. Scientists have said the swings are the result of changes in deer tick populations and activity levels, which rise in warm, humid, and rainy weather and decline during dry spells.

Collins said in a written statement that the thousands of Mainers contracting Lyme and other tick-borne diseases means there is “urgency to address this burgeoning public health threat.” She said the funding “will spur UMaine’s research as well as programs that will help protect Mainers’ health and slow the spread of these diseases.”

Griffin Dill, who manages the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s Tick Lab, said in an interview Thursday that the $6.2 million will pay for five years of research and public education.


About $2 million of the funding will go toward research into alternative ways to reduce tick populations, and to determine how the changing climate can be used to optimize tick control efforts, he said. Researchers will study whether it would be effective to conduct additional pesticide spraying in late summer or fall at times when drought conditions and warming temperatures could make them more vulnerable.

“With adult ticks being active longer, an extended time of high tick activity from October to December, does that provide us with another opportunity to minimize the tick population heading into the winter?” Dill said. He said the tick lab will also research alternative chemicals and non-chemical solutions that could reduce tick populations.

About $2.5 million of the federal funding will be used to detect whether “emerging tick species” are present in Maine.

Dill said the lone star tick – which does not transmit Lyme disease but does transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever – may be in Maine, but it’s not known whether there’s an established population. Dill said lone star tick specimens have been sent to the tick lab, but they have not yet been found in the field. The lone star tick’s range includes much of the East, South, and Midwest and as far west as Texas, Kansas, and Oklahoma.

“This funding will allow us to do more field monitoring, giving us boots on the ground to detect some of these emerging tick species,” Dill said.

Another tick species the cooperative extension is looking for is the Asian longhorned tick, a species that is new to the United States and has not yet been found in Maine. The Asian longhorned tick is present in about 15 states and as far north as Connecticut and Rhode Island. Scientists are still determining what types of diseases it might transmit.

More than $1.6 million will be devoted to public education on ticks and Lyme disease, including school programs in rural schools.

The federal money for Maine is in addition to the state’s share of $100 million included in the TICK Act, a bill co-sponsored by Collins that was signed into law in 2019. Also, in April, Congress approved an additional $22.5 million for tick and Lyme initiatives. The $122.5 million has been used to support tick research and programs across the nation.

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