CONCORD, N.H. — They’re creepy crawly, and it’s hard to think of another insect that inspires as much “ick” as a tick. There are some decent reasons to be grossed out by these creatures that can make people and animals sick.
Tick-borne diseases have risen dramatically in New Hampshire in the past two decades, but there’s a lack of data about where ticks are found, their numbers, and the pathogens they may carry.
Researchers at N.H.’s Hubbard Center for Genome Studies and the University of New Hampshire have landed a new grant from the U.S. Geological Survey that they will use to establish baseline data to answer these questions. The goal is to use that information to protect people and animals from disease.
To learn more about ticks and how they spread disease, the researchers plan to develop a tick surveillance system for Northern New England.
David Needle is a researcher spearheading the project. He’s a senior veterinary pathologist and pathology section chief with UNH’s NH Veterinary Diagnostic Lab and a clinical associate professor in the department of molecular, cellular and biomedical sciences.
Needle said ticks and the diseases they carry didn’t used to be a big concern, but that’s changed.
“Veterinarians are engulfed in work related to the increased burden of ticks and tick-borne diseases which infect domesticated and wild animals in the region,” he said in a statement. Tick prevention is now a vital part of veterinary care, and vaccination for Lyme disease is one of the most common vaccines dogs receive, according to Needle.
During the two-year project, researchers plan to sequence the DNA of ticks from animals including deer, moose, bears, racoons, and birds. They will look for pathogens that are already known, and ones that are potentially new.
Needle said the results can be used to inform public health efforts. And he believes increased monitoring is important, given the recent arrival of new kinds of ticks that can carry deadly diseases, like the invasive lone star and Asian longhorn tick.
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