Braintree High School sophomore Jacqueline Flynn has completed a research project on blacklegged ticks (deer ticks) that has caught the attention of state officials. Her science fair project "Hot Tips to Kill Ticks" will be presented this week at the high school.
Department of Conservation & Recreation State Parks Director Priscilla Geigis joined DCR's Director of Forest Stewardship Peter Church in recognizing the public health importance of the research. Blacklegged ticks are abundant in woodlands and brushy habitat in Braintree and throughout Massachusetts. Lyme disease is transmitted through tick bites.
Jackie Flynn's research into clearing ticks from clothing uncovered a lack of data on the effectiveness of a clothes dryer on killing ticks. Studies had concluded that ticks frequently survive a clothes washer cycle. Ticks are difficult to drown. Unless the arachnid is dislodged and washed down the drain, ticks can emerge alive on clothes removed from a washer. Placing clothes in a dryer cycle for a full hour was known to kill ticks.
Jackie asked the following question: because most people dry clothes for less than one hour, how long do clothes need to tumble in a clothes dryer to assure that blacklegged ticks are killed? Ticks require consistent humidy so Jackie suspected that a clothes dryer would kill ticks quickly.
Jackie captured ticks in the field using ticks drags – sections of white felt pulled through brush and woodlands. Ticks were place in white mesh bags and put through dryer cycles, with and without wet clothing.
The research exposed the tick's extreme sensitivity to heat and/or dessication in a dryer. After repeated trials, all blacklegged ticks were killed in only five minutes on a low heat cycle. Ticks survived fluff cycles, but quickly succumbed when heat is applied. Although a washing machine is ineffective in cleaning ticks from clothing, the use of a clothes dryer can quickly and thoroughly assure that clothing is free of the common pests.
Jackie sent the results of her research to the DCR officials who replied with great interest in the project. Directors Geigis and Chuch plan to disseminate the results of the research to field staff throughout the agency.
–Patrick Flynn, Chair of the Braintree Conservation Commission