Grant awarded to WCSU professor will keep Lyme disease study ticking along

DANBURY, CONN. — Dr. Neeta Connally’s tenacity in studying infectious insects is paying off. A recent $35,000 grant from the state Department of Health will help Connally hire students to conduct a tick prevention study in several area towns.

Connally, a former Yale research scientist and expert on Lyme disease, has been an assistant professor of biological and environmental sciences at Western since January 2011. She has been hard at work establishing a research program at the university on the ecology of the deer tick and disease prevention in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control, Yale School of Public Health and the DOH.

“This study provides a great opportunity for biology students to get hands-on research experience,” Connally said. “We often get dirty and need to be out in the field despite very hot weather or hungry mosquitoes. Students learn that research isn’t perfect. We sometimes find that our original plan won’t work, and we need to come up with several approaches to answer our question.”

In 2009, Connally co-published the results of a three-year study entitled “Peridomestic Lyme Disease Prevention” in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, in which the authors identified effective disease prevention measures. She holds an undergraduate degree in animal biology from Louisiana Tech University, a master’s degree in public health from Tulane School of Public Health and a Ph.D. in environmental science from the University of Rhode Island.

It is estimated that more than 15 percent of reported cases of the disease are in Fairfield County — a statistic that intrigues Connally. The biology professor’s most recent study will involve collecting ticks from treated residences to determine the effectiveness of a pesticide applied to the wooded edge of properties. Connally’s ultimate goal is to see a decline in the transmission of Lyme through myriad methods of prevention, including the application of pesticides and educating people about how to protect themselves.

“My research focuses on the prevention of tick-borne illnesses, such as Lyme disease,” Connally said. “This study may change how we think about tick-borne disease prevention in the future. Being part of such a large and important study is very exciting for me.”

 

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