Simmons Interviewed by Allegheny Front on Pittsburgh Parks, Lyme Disease Risk, and COVID-19

Posted on 6/9/2020 9:25:17 AM

Tom Simmons (professor of Biology) was interviewed in Schenley Park by Kara Holsopple of the award-winning public radio station Allegheny Front about Lyme disease risk in the four major Pittsburgh regional city parks during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Simmons, Joe Duchamp (professor of Biology), and six undergraduate biology research students conducted a study on Lyme disease risk of exposure to blacklegged ticks infected with the Lyme disease pathogen in the parks. Their study, “Lyme Disease Risk of Exposure to Blacklegged Ticks (Acari: Ixodidae) Infected with Borrelia burgdorferi (Spirochaetales: Spirochaetaceae) in Pittsburgh Regional Parks,” was published in the Journal of Medical Entomology online in September 2019 and in print in January 2020.

They found that the abundance of nymphal immature and adult ticks infected with the Lyme disease pathogen was as high in the Pittsburgh city parks as in rural and suburban recreational areas in the Hudson Valley region of southeastern New York, which is highly endemic for Lyme disease.

Their findings have taken on greater importance as the number of visitors to parks has dramatically increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Simmons warned that visitors should not assume that Lyme disease risk is low because these are city parks, and that they should enjoy the outdoors and benefit from active recreation, but adopt personal protective measures to reduce their risk of contracting Lyme disease.

He also recommended that the city of Pittsburgh post their parks with tick warning signs to alert visitors, similar to posting COVID-19 social distancing signs, and that other cities assess Lyme disease risk in their parks to determine if management is warranted.

Photo: Sara McBride ’15 collecting ticks for pilot project in Schenley Park.

Department of Biology