Creating a baseline for understanding how ticks, mosquitos, and other arthropods spread disease in various geographical regions is the goal of a newly published study out of the University of Missouri (MU).
Over a three-year span, researchers collected and identified various species of ticks in the outskirts of Pittsburg, Kan., twice per month as part of a study which is considered the most comprehensive of its kind in the American Midwest.
Led by Ram Raghavan, PhD, MS, an epidemiologist and professor at the MU College of Veterinary Medicine and School of Health Professions, the research found the majority of ticks to be most active in the humid spring and summer seasons.
Most importantly, however, the resulting comprehensive documentation of when, where, and which ticks are present may help public health officials better understand the overall threat of tick-borne diseases to humans, companion animals, and livestock, MU reports.
“We have seen increases recently in both the number and severity of tick-borne diseases in the Midwest, particularly in the humid climates of Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas,” Dr. Raghavan says. “Since more people get infected by tick-borne diseases each year than any other vector-borne disease, it is important we better understand what type of ticks are present in our region, where they are located, and what time of year they are most prevalent. This information will help keep us, our families, pets, and livestock safe.”
Raghavan, who completed the research with former graduate student, Ali Hroobi, attributes several factors to the rise in tick-borne diseases, including the suburban sprawl, which has led owners and their pets to spend more time near forests and grasslands where ticks are often present, as well as an increase in outdoor fitness activities (e.g. hiking, biking), particularly amidst the pandemic.
“It is important to remember health does not operate separately for humans compared to animals or the environment,” he says. “This is a One Health issue, and, as humans, we are just a small part of an enormous ecosystem. The more we learn and understand the problems, the better we can protect ourselves against these preventable diseases.”
The findings, MU reports, could inform future studies to better identify when and where specific pathogens amplify within various ticks and their effects on disease severity, along with the impact of climate change and land use change on the prevalence of tick-borne diseases.
“This comprehensive research study helps us create a baseline understanding of the current situation from a public health perspective,” Raghavan says. “These contributing factors will likely continue to play a role going forward, and now we have meaningful, relevant data to look back on for comparisons to see if certain trends continue in the future.”
“Diversity and seasonality of host-seeking ticks in a periurban environment in the Central Midwest (USA)” has been published in PLOS One. To access it, click here.