Taking on ticks
Granite State summer camps and Ashland’s BeBop Labs are working together to fight tick-borne disease
Many people move to New Hampshire so they can engage in a plethora of recreational activities available year-round in the state.
The rugged wilderness of our peaks, the beauty of our lakes and the multiplicity of opportunities our state affords for all types of recreation are undeniable attractions that make New Hampshire a popular destination for tourists, too.
As we enjoy the state parks and the more than 800,000 acres that are part of the White Mountain National Forest — for rock-climbing, hiking, fishing, camping, boating and more — not enough people stop to consider the potential danger and risk for contracting infectious disease.
Two nonprofit organizations have partnered with the goal of educating people to ensure that they are safe and healthy in the great outdoors. And New Hampshire campers are going to be pitching in this summer to help achieve that goal.
BeBop Labs and the New Hampshire Camp Directors’ Association are working together to solve the state’s tick-borne disease problem, including Lyme disease and a variety of other bacterial and viral tick-borne diseases. Recent evidence about climate change points to an increase in the number of ticks in the state.
When she moved to New Hampshire, Dr. Kaitlyn Morse founded BeBop Labs in Ashland with the goal of “empowering community to take charge of health and collective discovery.” Her previous work as an infectious disease scientist, both at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School’s Infectious Disease Division, led her to realize that she wanted to discover and explore ways to make science collaborative.
Morse said, “It is a scientific revolution. We are changing how we do and think about science,” with the purpose of promoting opportunities for people to take charge of their own health and wellness.
Morse wants to define the risks we take when outdoors — whether in our backyard or on the wilderness trails that cross the state.
She and BeBop Labs are starting to do this by tracking tick-borne diseases, but also plan to track other disease vectors including water, soil and air.
Around the time she launched her work at BeBop Labs, Morse connected with members of the NHCDA, a nonprofit that provides advocacy, leadership, education, development, fellowship and best practice support to more than 90 member camps and camp professionals, and over 150,000 campers, families and staff in the state.
Starting with an expansive tick project, BeBop Labs is planning to research, gather and disseminate various scientific data to the public that directly influences our health and environment, while offering the public access to a collaborative science laboratory.
Dr. Morse has enlisted camps throughout the state to help with her research, starting with those in central New Hampshire, asking campers to help her identify at-risk locations by assisting with data collection. It’s exciting for campers that Morse has invited them to participate in scientific research and discovery that may someday help alleviate the problem of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases.
As an integral part of the partnership, participating campers will help Morse passively collect ticks under trained adult supervision, assisting Morse with her research throughout the year, especially during the summer months.
Each tick will be bagged and identified with the date it was collected, the coordinates where it was located (identified by street or GIS mapping), the activity during which it was found (hiking, jogging, etc.), whether it was discovered on a human or pet, and whether the tick was biting or crawling. If the tick was biting a person, a camper will provide the age of the person and the location they were bitten.
Meanwhile, Morse plans to offer workshops to interested camps for students to learn more about scientific data collection. Campers will learn how to track data, identify different species of ticks (moose, dog or deer ticks), create and read data graphs, and understand more about the scientific discovery process.
Morse hopes that through these collaborative efforts, our youth will be encouraged and trained to be the next scientific experts that will inform healthcare practitioners of the current dangers of tick-borne diseases, while helping to solve the problem through collective scientific discovery.
Together, BeBop Labs and NH Camps plan to ‘change the way we do science.’ By working together, the two organizations hope to educate people of their tick-borne disease risk while taking steps to prevent those diseases, and in the long-term, solve a public health concern that sometimes discourages families from enjoying the natural surroundings that initially brought them to recreational activities in the White Mountains.
Kathleen M. Kearns is executive director of the Circle Program, a nonprofit organization that offers residential summer camp and year-round mentoring programs to underprivileged New Hampshire girls.