Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases pose very real threats to human health. A 2021 estimate suggested that more than 470,000 people in the United States are diagnosed annually for Lyme disease alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) provides critical funding to Land-grant Institutions as they work to understand expanding ranges of ticks, to better manage tick populations, to minimize human exposure to ticks, and to reduce tick-borne infections.
Researchers in more than 23 states are collaborating in a wide-reaching project to manage ticks and the pathogens they carry. This partnership allows scientists with diverse expertise to learn from each other, share research resources and study multiple species at the same time over wider ranges. Having members in multiple states ensures that monitoring, outreach and control efforts are consistent nationwide, but also tailored to the needs of certain areas.
Funded in part by NIFA’s Multistate Research Fund, this effort is not only generating important insights but also providing new practices and tools to confront tickborne diseases. Researchers created models to predict the expanding ranges of various tick species to help monitor ticks, predict disease outbreaks, and guide control activities. Scientists also developed tests that detect exposure to tick and pathogens they can transmit. Many studies focused on refining strategies to combat ticks and the pathogens they carry.
Other Tick Research
- Virginia Tech scientists are using a fluorescent molecule that tracks growth and replication of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. This allows them to monitor the effectiveness of potential new drug therapies using machines that detect fluorescence signal. They hope to couple the automated, machine detection component with a high-throughput culture method to grow the bacteria. This system that would enable the team to screen tens of thousands of compounds and hopefully identify new therapies that kill the organism that causes Lyme disease.
- A research team at the University of Maine is investigating whether landscape-scale interventions will mitigate the transmission of tick-borne diseases. They are studying the cascading effects of forest management via timber harvesting has on wildlife community composition, small mammal behavior, and tick abundance and Lyme disease infection prevalence in privately-owned small woodlands.
- In Connecticut, researchers have documented the effectiveness of a topical pesticide treatment applied via feeding stations to white-tailed deer in the management of lone star ticks. Results showed it significantly reduced densities of host-seeking adult ticks as well as in both nymph and larval stages.
- Scientists at Michigan State University are working to identify the factors contributing to the spread of the blacklegged tick, which can vector Lyme disease and anaplasmosis, to better predict and reduce the risk of tick-borne disease.
- At the University of Arkansas, researchers are looking for naturally occurring fungi that attack ticks. In the next research phase, they will conduct small-scale field tests of promising biological control agents for ticks.