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Deer, Ticks and Lyme Disease

While deer are certainly among the many species of animals and birds, which can act as hosts to, ticks, it might be a mistake to assume that they carry a notable responsibility for encouraging high numbers of them. 

Although there is some evidence that, where deer and other large herbivores such as sheep are absent, the numbers of ticks present in the environment may be reduced, scientific opinion remains uncertain as to whether, once deer and sheep are present, actual numbers have any real effect on overall tick burdens.

be tick aware
Current research on the spread of Lyme disease suggests that deer may only play a very small part, and that it is likely that some species of birds are far more significant carriers of the infective organism.

Initial infection of ticks with Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi) occurs not from deer, but while the subadult juvenile ticks are feeding on smaller animals (voles, mice, rabbits, and small birds). Indeed surveys of different wildlife species indicate that amongst the most significant carriers of the Borrelia bacteria are blackbirds, thrushes and robins.

By contrast, the bacteria are unable to maintain themselves in deer of any species. Once they have reacted to their first infected bite, deer produce antibodies, which not only prevent infection of the deer but also carry on circulating in the bloodstream.

These antibodies may have an active role in cleansing any subsequent ticks, which feed on them, removing the Borrelia from the ticks system and thus preventing it infecting anything else.

The British Deer Society is committed to encouraging public awareness of Lyme disease and supports ongoing research into the dynamics of the disease and its relationship with deer.

For more information visit our page on ticks and Lyme disease