Testing Ticks is Vital to Safety

ticks being tested for Lyme disease at UConn lab
Photo: Heather Haycock

The warmer weather has people and our animals headed outdoors. Unfortunately, this same weather has also brought ticks out in abundance. Recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have cited increased numbers of ticks, and tick-borne diseases. UConn’s Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (CVMDL), part of the Department of Pathobiology in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, is on the frontlines of research and tick testing to keep humans and animals safe.

Ticks are disease-carrying arachnids that reside in moist areas, long grass and the leaf litter and will latch onto humans and animals alike. Although there are many different species of ticks, people generally think of one tick species in particular when worrying about illness: the deer tick (Ixodes scapularis). While the Deer tick is predominantly known for transmitting Lyme disease (caused by the corkscrew-shaped bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi) it can also carry other disease-causing agents. A single tick can transmit more than one infectious agent.

In the Northeast, we see the Deer tick, the Dog tick (Dermacentor variablis), Brown Dog tick (Rhiphcephalus sanguineus) and Lonestar tick (Amblyomma americanum). Each of these can be tested for different pathogens known to cause illness in humans and/or animals.

Tick testing at CVMDL serves multiple purposes. It helps the person or veterinarian who submitted the tick understand the potential exposure of the subject that the tick was found on. Our researchers are also using the results from tick testing to track current and emerging disease producing agents carried by ticks. The data can be used in setting priority areas for prevention and vaccine development.

CVMDL has been busy testing ticks this spring. We received 33 ticks for testing in April. Of these specimens, 25 of them were received in the last two weeks of the month. Two of the ticks were found on dogs. Overaal, the results showed that the Lyme disease agent was detected in 8 specimens, B. burgdorferi and Babesia microti (Babesiosis) were detected in one specimen whereas 4 ticks were positive for both B. burgdorferiand Anaplasma phagocytophilum(Anaplasmosis).

UConn researchers are not just testing for diseases transmitted by ticks. Researchers at PVS are also working to develop vaccines and preventative control measures to combat tick-borne illnesses.

If you find a tick on yourself, your child, or your pet, remove it immediately! CVMDL can test the tick for pathogens. Ticks received at the CVMDL are first examined under a microscope by trained technicians to determine the species of tick, life stage, and degree of blood engorgement, all of which are factors that may impact transmission of pathogens to the person or animal. Ticks may then be tested for the DNA of pathogens that are common to that tick species. Results are normally reported within 3-5 business days of receiving the sample, but next day testing is available for an additional fee.

Please send ticks together with a small square of moist paper towel, in sealed zip lock bags. The submission form, pricing and the “Do’s and Don’ts of tick testing” can be found on our website at http://s.uconn.edu/468.

For more information, read the article from UConn Magazinethat includes tips to prevent tick bites, or watch the UConn Science in Seconds video. You can also contact the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory at cvmdl@uconn.edu or 860-486-3738 or visit the tick testing page on our website http://cvmdl.uconn.edu/service/tick.php.

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