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Tick Free NH doing its part to spread tick awareness

New Hampshire Sunday News

July 17. 2017 11:28PM

Anyone who spends time outside knows it’s been a fierce summer for ticks.

And it’s not just Lyme disease we have to worry about these days; the state health department is warning Granite Staters of the growing risk of other tickborne diseases, such as babesiosis, anaplasmosis and Powassan virus.

A Hollis entrepreneur is the force behind a new campaign to spread awareness about preventing tick bites. It’s called Tick Free NH.

Frank Grossman never realized how debilitating the bite of a tiny tick could be until his friend and business partner became desperately ill. “He went from being a bike rider and marathon runner to running out of breath when he got to the top of the stairs,” Grossman said in a recent interview.

This was in the early 2000s, and there wasn’t much information about tickborne illnesses, he said. It took a long time before his friend finally got a diagnosis: Lyme disease.

The experience made Grossman wonder about the effect such illnesses must be having on New Hampshire’s economy — and the lives of the thousands who have been affected.

He decided to do something about it.

First Grossman worked with the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation to create a fund to support the effort. Then he met with experts at the nonprofit Community Health Institute (CHI) in Bow; it’s the New Hampshire office of JSI Research and Training Institute, a public health management consulting and research organization.

They put together an advisory committee of public health experts, state officials, physicians, lawmakers, even an entomologist. The group shared its expertise for videos, posters, workbooks for kids, even “shower cards” for camps to use, explaining how to check for ticks and remove them safely.

Christin D’Ovidio is project director for Tick Free NH at CHI. She said the campaign is especially targeting kids aged 2 to 13 and their caretakers, since those youngsters are more likely to be playing outside at home, school or camp — and less likely to be checking themselves for ticks.

But it’s not just kids. “Everyone in New Hampshire is at risk for being bitten by a tick,” D’Ovidio said.

“Hunters know to protect themselves; people that are outdoors a lot usually know. It’s the people who don’t consider themselves to be in the deep woods that may not be aware that they’re at risk.”

The group has mailed prevention materials to about 1,000 organizations, including camps and schools, and worked with regional public health networks to get them into medical offices.

Grossman also funded research to measure public awareness of the risk. A poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center last fall found that 62 percent of respondents believed they were at a high or moderate risk of getting Lyme disease, while 37 percent said they were at a low risk or no risk at all.

But only 15 percent knew how to properly remove a tick (with tweezers).

Despite the increased awareness of Lyme disease, it’s still a challenge to get most folks to take the threat seriously, Grossman said.

“People have a hard time with a little tiny thing and a big effect,” he said. “That’s not consistent with most of our medical understanding.”

Abigail Mathewson is an epidemiologist with the Bureau of Infectious Disease Control at the state Department of Health and Human Services. She said the partnership with Tick Free NH is helping to spread awareness of Lyme and other tickborne diseases.

“It’s been a really good, New Hampshire-focused collaboration,” she said.

But getting people to take simple precautions against tick bites — wearing repellent and tucking pants into socks — remains a challenge, she said.

The state sees 1,400 to 1,500 cases of Lyme disease a year, she said. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that only a tenth of cases are actually reported.

The state also has seen cases of anaplasmosis, babesiosis and Powassan virus, all spread by the black-legged tick implicated in Lyme disease. Other emerging diseases such as borrelia miyamotoi also are spread by the same tick.

And it’s likely there are as-yet-undiscovered diseases these ticks carry as well, Mathewson said.

Tick Free NH stays away from some of the controversial aspects of Lyme disease, such as treatment protocols.

And they don’t want people to avoid the outdoors, D’Ovidio said.

“Being in nature is important, and getting physical activity is important,” she said. “That’s really a big part of New Hampshire and our culture here, and we don’t want to keep people from doing that.”

The goal is to teach people how to protect themselves when they do go outside, she said.

BELOW: A wallet card from the website:

Grossman, who is now retired and calls himself “a professional volunteer,” is full of ideas for that.

He wants to get Tick Free NH materials to town planners, landscapers and utility companies. He’d like to partner with stores that cater to outdoor workers and gardeners to feature clothing and other products that can help prevent tick bites.

He also wants to get materials into the hands of doctors to give to their patients.

Grossman’s vision is for prevention to become a routine for adults and kids alike before heading outside. “We don’t want them to be scared, but to realize this is not that hard,” he said.

“We can do this.”

For more information, or to donate, visit

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