By Elizabeth Cohen and John Bonifield
Originally appeared on CNN, June 24, 2018
In many parts of the United States, this weekend marks the start of summer sleepaway camp season, which means swimming, arts and crafts, marshmallow roasts — and, very often, ticks.
Of the more than 1,600 overnight camps that are members of the American Camp Association, more than a third are in New England and the mid-Atlantic states, where Lyme disease is particularly prevalent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to a May CDC report, cases of vector-borne diseases — those caused by viruses and bacteria carried by ticks, mosquitoes and other bugs — tripled in the United States from 2004 to 2016.
For years, experts have voiced concern that many local public health agencies are unprepared to control such pests and limit the spread of these diseases which include Lyme disease, dengue fever and Zika.
“I started to look into it, and the numbers were on the increase and didn’t show any signs of stopping,” said Lauren Rutkowski, who with her husband, Joel, owns Indian Head Camp for children in Equinunk, Pennsylvania. “As a mom and a camp director, I was concerned.”
Every summer from 2010 to 2014, seven or eight campers had confirmed or suspected tick bites at Indian Head, and each summer, three or four of those children tested positive for Lyme disease, according to Rutkowski.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted through bites from infected ticks, and if left untreated, it can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system.
She said it’s not known whether the children contracted the disease from the tick bite they got at camp or from a previous tick bite at home.
In 2014, her son, Oakley, was bitten by a tick at the family’s camp, which hosts 650 children every summer. He did not contract Lyme disease.
The next year, Rutkowski hired a new service that helps fight ticks, including spraying the perimeter of the camp with pesticides and offering advice on how to get rid of habitats where ticks breed.
Since then, not a single camper is known to have been bitten by a tick, Rutkowski said.
Now, 123 camps use the service, Ivy Oaks Analytics, according to Isaiah Ham, who started the company after one of his summer campers contracted Lyme disease from a tick bite.
Ham, then a college student working as a counselor, said he wasn’t pleased with the camp’s response.
“The camp just kind of shrugged and thought it was just inevitable, like a hurricane; it was just part of being in the outdoors,” Ham remembered.