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Title: Integrating tick density and park visitor behaviors to assess the risk of tick exposure in urban parks on Staten Island, New York
Abstract Background Public green spaces are important for human health, but they may expose visitors to ticks and tick-borne pathogens. We sought to understand, for the first time, visitors’ exposure risk and drivers of tick-preventative behavior in three popular parks on Staten Island, New York City, NY, USA, by integrating tick hazard and park visitors’ behaviors, risk perceptions and knowledge. Methods We conducted tick sampling in three parks, across three site types (open spaces, the edge of open spaces, and trails) and three within-park habitats (maintained grass, unmaintained herbaceous, and leaf litter) to estimate tick density during May-August 2019. Human behavior was assessed by observations of time spent and activity type in each site. We integrated the time spent in each location by park visitors and the tick density to estimate the probability of human-tick encounter. To assess visitors’ tick prevention behaviors, a knowledge, attitude, and practices (KAP) survey was administered. Results Three tick species ( Ixodes scapularis , Amblyomma americanum and Haemaphysalis longicornis) were collected. For all species, the density of nymphs was greatest in unmaintained herbaceous habitats and trails, however, the fewest people entered these hazardous locations. The KAP survey revealed that most respondents ( N  = 190) identified parks as the main location for tick exposure, but most believed they had minimal risk for tick encounter. Consequently, many visitors did not conduct tick checks. People were most likely to practice tick checks if they knew multiple prevention methods and perceived a high likelihood of tick encounter. Conclusions By integrating acarological indices with park visitor behaviors, we found a mismatch between areas with higher tick densities and areas more frequently used by park visitors. However, this exposure risk varied among demographic groups, the type of activities and parks, with a higher probability of human-tick encounters in trails compared to open spaces. Furthermore, we showed that people’s KAP did not change across parks even if parks represented different exposure risks. Our research is a first step towards identifying visitor risk, attitudes, and practices that could be targeted by optimized messaging strategies for tick bite prevention among park visitors.  more » « less
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BMC Public Health
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National Science Foundation
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