Just as medical professionals on the Vineyard are feeling encouraged by the start of a Lyme vaccine trial, Island doctors are reporting numerous instances of itchy, painful rashes caused by lone star tick larvae in so-called “tick bombs.”

“It can be a summer of misery, which some people have had,” Dr. Gerald Yukevich said in an interview this week.

Dr. Yukevich said the rashes resemble those of a scabies patient, and most patients see him after trips to Chappy, Chilmark and Aquinnah.

“I’d say for the past month or so I’ve seen one [patient] at least every other day,” Dr. Yukevich said.

Mary Weinberg, helps out with field operations at Care Access. — Ray Ewing

Dr. Yukevich was among a group of medical professionals and experts who talked to the Gazette recently on the broad issue of ticks on the Island. He was joined by Dr. Kathleen Koehler of Vineyard Medical Care, and Dr. Louis Russo and Dr. Gustavo Kesserling who are acting as liaisons to the Island’s Brazilian community for the vaccine trial.

In development by the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer in collaboration with French pharmaceutical company Valneva, the Lyme disease vaccine trial is being run by the clinical trial company Care Access.

Joe Small, an employee of Care Access also at the interview, said that more than 400 people on the Island have signed up for the trial since it began earlier this summer. Initially run out of just one trailer equipped with the medical tools necessary for the trial, Care Access quickly expanded, adding trailers at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

The trial will last around two or three years, the experts said. The group agreed that the severity of Lyme disease on the Island is a major motivating factor for many who have signed up.

Dr. Russo said the trend mirrors the public willingness seen during covid vaccine trials.

“The number one motivation … is to know more about their own health,” Dr. Russo said.

Dr. Russo and Dr. Kesserling said their goal is to engage with the Brazilian community on the Island and further the trial’s goal of bringing the vaccine to rural areas.

“To have a link with the local community and spread news about the importance of this vaccination,” Dr. Russo said, of its goal.

Meanwhile, the lone star tick marches on. In a recent phone call to the Gazette, public health biologist and Island tick expert Patrick Roden-Reynolds explained a phenomenon many Islanders have dealt with this summer.

“It’s most likely that people are running into these lone star tick clusters and all of a sudden there’s hundreds of these tiny ticks crawling up your legs,” Mr. Roden-Reynolds said.

He said the result is an itchy, concentrated rash from dozens of bites. Although painful, he said there was little possibility of disease transmission from the larvae because ticks usually don’t carry illnesses until their nymph stage.

“In most cases there’s really no concern,” he said. “It should just be an itchy, itchy bug bite.”

Dr. Yukevich said that in the patients he has seen with the rashes, it appears as though larvae have burrowed into the skin. He said there are few studies on the phenomenon, and the ones he has found are years old.

All the doctors stressed preventative measures are key to avoiding tick bites at all costs. Dr. Michael Loberg, president of Vineyard Medical Care, wore a pair of permethrin treated socks just to talk about ticks on Wednesday.

Dr. Loberg said that awareness of Lyme disease and the dangers associated with ticks has grown over the years, but there remains a long road ahead.

“There has been a great improvement in terms of awareness,” Dr. Loberg said. “But we still don’t have any way to prevent it — and that’s what we’re trying to do now.”

To sign up for the Lyme disease vaccination trial contact Vineyard Medical Care at 508-693-4400.