Neeta Connally, an assistant professor of biological and
environmental sciences at Western, finds bugs fascinating. More
specifically, the former Yale research scientist relishes being a
“bug detective” and focuses her study on infectious insects.
An expert on Lyme disease and other tick-borne
maladies, Connally joined the WCSU biology department in January and
has been hard at work establishing a research program at Western on
the ecology of the deer tick and disease prevention in collaboration
with the Center for Disease Control, Yale School of Public Health
and the state Department of Public Health.
In 2009, Connally co-published the results of a
three-year study entitled “Peridomestic Lyme Disease Prevention” in
the American Journal of Preventative 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.
Connally, who teaches full time at the
university, is joined in the WCSU research lab by three
undergraduate students who work under a grant to collect and track
deer ticks at the Nature Preserve on Western’s Westside campus and
several western Connecticut towns including Ridgefield and Newtown.
Biology majors Karen Thompson and Christopher Madden and recent
graduate Michelle Dease are busy monitoring area ticks.
“Fairfield County has the largest number of
Lyme disease cases in the state,” Connally said. It is estimated
that more than 15 percent of reported cases of the disease are in
Fairfield County. That statistic intrigues Connally because it begs
for local attention — the kind of attention she is willing to give.
“There hasn’t been a lot of current tick research in the region. I’m
trying to establish a tick monitoring system here to track changes
in tick populations over time.”
Connally’s ultimate goal is to see a decline in
the transmission of Lyme through prevention — and the only way to
prevent the disease is to inform people how to protect themselves.
Connally said the transmission of Lyme and other tick-borne diseases
is not immediate. Usually a tick must be on a person’s body for 36
hours before transmission of bacteria occurs. Therefore, the tick
specialist said, it is a good idea to bathe within two hours after
being outdoors and check for ticks that may have attached onto the
body within that 36-hour window. In addition, Connally said, people
don’t have to be hiking to be in contact with ticks: “Most people
get ticks in their own backyards,” she said.
Connally, who also volunteers as the scientific adviser for the
BLAST program (Bathe, Look for ticks, Apply repellent, Spray your
yard, Treat your pets) in Ridgefield, said she is hoping that her
research at Western will continue to help people through
environmental measures and education to avoid being infected by