Risk perceptions of tick-borne diseases in Acadia National Park visitors
Monday, August 2, 2021
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Sarah Rappaport, Ecology and Environmental Sciences, University of Maine, Orono, ME, Sandra De Urioste-Stone, School of Forest Resources, University of Maine, Orono, ME, Alyssa Soucy and Brooke Hafford MacDonald, University of Maine, Orono, ME
Ecology and Environmental Sciences, University of Maine Orono, Maine, United States
Background/Question/Methods Maine’s Acadia National Park is one of the top recreation areas within the state. Acadia’s tourist season uniquely matches the life-cycle of the black-legged tick, Ixodes scapularis-- the primary vector of Lyme disease. The combination of recreational activities and a tourism season that correlates with accelerated tick-infection rates in humans at places with reported tick-borne diseases, like Acadia National Park, may increase the exposure of large numbers of tourists to tick-borne disease risk. This study seeks to understand how tourists or visitors in Acadia National Park perceive their risk of exposure to tick-borne diseases. We hypothesize that visitors coming from areas endemic for Lyme disease will have stronger perceptions of risk and overall knowledge about tick-borne diseases than visitors from areas not endemic for Lyme disease. A mixed-mode survey was conducted in Acadia National Park during the summer of 2019. This consisted of a five-minute in park survey, followed by a longer online survey. 624 respondents completed the online portion of the survey. These respondents were further divided into two groups: respondents from “endemic” states and respondents from “non-endemic” states. Results/Conclusions Chi-square analysis of preventive measures revealed a significant difference between tick-check usage amongst the two groups (χ2(2, N=398)= 6.13, p= .047. Independent samples t-tests revealed that there were significant differences in how respondents from endemic locations perceived risk in comparison to those from non-endemic areas (t(383)= 3.20, p= .002). Significant differences were also found in factual tick knowledge between groups, which justifies past research on perceived risk being linked to cognitive factors. The hypothesis that residing in an area endemic for Lyme disease influenced various factors related to risk perception and preventive behaviors yielded mixed results. Perceived risk and factual tick knowledge showed statistically significant differences between groups, but total preventive behavior usage did not vary drastically. Visitors coming from regions endemic for Lyme disease did score higher on perceived risk, as was hypothesized. Interestingly, even with higher perceived risk, respondents from areas endemic for Lyme only engaged in tick check behavior more often. Other preventive behaviors were lacking in usage among both groups. Further studies are necessary to investigate whether communication campaigns and strategies tailored to different respondent groups can manage varying risk perceptions. The results of this study show that residing in areas with more tick-borne diseases may influence certain behaviors such as tick-check usage and risk perceptions of disease.