Tick-Borne Disease Warning Signs in State Parks

October 01, 2020 | Kathy Dolan, Courtney Youngbar

Incidences of tick-borne disease are on the rise, according to the CDC. In 2018, state and local health departments reported about 47,000 cases of tick-borne disease to CDC, 33,000 of which were Lyme disease. According to CDC, state health departments report 30,000 Lyme disease cases each year. However, tick-borne diseases are considered very underreported as recent estimates suggest that approximately 300,000 people contract Lyme disease annually.

Though late spring and summer is considered “tick season,” ticks are still a threat in the fall as many areas of the country continue to see temperatures that ticks can thrive later and later in the year, and as people continue to get outdoors and enjoy their state parks.

Unlike in the case of mosquito-borne disease, where chemical control methods such as adulticiding and larviciding are often used, public health relies on outreach and education for reducing an individual’s exposure to ticks and tick bites. To combat this, some state legislatures are directing state agencies to develop public outreach for preventing tick-borne disease, including signage and communication materials for the public. Below is a look at existing state laws and proposed bills that were introduced or enacted in the past year and a half to determine the legislative landscape around tick-borne disease signage requirements or printed materials in state parks.

Since 2019, three states have introduced legislation requiring state parks to feature warning signage or printed materials on tick-borne diseases at their parks, campgrounds, or other recreation areas. Two states (New York and Wisconsin) have enacted laws surrounding tick-borne disease information signs at state parks since 2019. Wisconsin considered a second bill addressing the state’s Department of Natural Resources’s efforts to raise awareness about Lyme disease. Michigan also introduced a bill in 2019 requiring the installation of signage at state park entrances warning of ticks and tick-borne illnesses.

New York state enacted companion bills in August 2019 requiring its office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation to install Lyme and tick-borne disease warning signs at all state-managed parks, including trail entryways and campgrounds. Assembly Bill A 6752 and Senate Bill S4355 directs the Preservation to conduct an assessment of state parks to determine the best spots to install signage warning the public about Lyme and other tick-borne infections.

Wisconsin enacted a bill in January directing the Department of Natural Resources—along with the Department of Health Services—to design signs in each state park, trail, and recreation area that will raise awareness on Lyme disease, how to avoid tick bites, and encouraging the public to check for bites after each visit. Wisconsin also considered a bill directing each state park that produces its own brochure to also include information on Lyme disease, how to prevent tick bites, and encouraging visitor to check for ticks after visiting. The bill also calls on the Department of Natural Resources to conduct a Lyme disease awareness campaign during the month of May, in connection with Lyme Disease Awareness Month. If enacted, the campaign would have used a combination of digital platforms, including the department’s website, social media, digital newsletters, and print platforms, including the Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine.

Michigan is considering a bill that would amend the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act. House Bill 4659 would add a section requiring the Department of Natural Resources to install and maintain signs warning the public about the presence of ticks and the threats of tick-borne diseases at each state park entrances, state park and state forest campgrounds, and access points to state trails. The bill defines “state trail” as a right-of-way owned or operated by the department and adapted to hiking, horseback riding, cross country skiing, bicycling, or snowmobile or off-road vehicle use.

Developing and posting signage and communication materials is a low-cost approach to inform the public about potential risks of tick bites, as well as strategies to prevent exposure to ticks. While park services may be hesitant to develop these materials due to a potential reduction in the number of visitors, equipping the public with information about timely prevention strategies and empowering the public to make informed decisions about risks may increase comfort and trust in the park service overall. This is especially important, since public warning and education is the strongest defense against tick-borne diseases.

ASTHO will continue to monitor legislative and executive activity to protect and educate the public on tick-borne diseases.