Send in the ticks
Studying the pests helps predict disease emergence across the state
BY AMBER SMITH
Upstate’s Citizen Science Tick Testing Program invites the public to send in ticks they find to be tested for Lyme and other disease-causing agents.
The majority of the ticks that are submitted are deer ticks, and one-third of those carry Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, says Saravanan Thangamani, PhD, a professor of microbiology and immunology who leads the Vector-borne Infectious Diseases Laboratory. (Learn more at thangamani-lab.com)
He also receives quite a few dog ticks, and Lone Star ticks.
Thangamani’s lab tracks the emergence of a dozen species of ticks that are most prevalent in New York state. Researchers strive to understand the geographical expansion of the ticks and tick-borne diseases. They analyze weather information to predict whether the climate influences tick migration. And they study how ticks transmit various diseases and which host species — animals or human — the different ticks prefer.
Based on data he collected from 2019, Thangamani says human New Yorkers are only the second favorite host for Lyme-positive ticks. It turns out that cats are No. 1.
Where ticks attach
Deer ticks collected between July 2019 and July 2020 through Upstate’s Citizen Science Tick Testing Program were found all over their human hosts.
These are the spots on the human body that were most popular with the black-legged arachnids collected at Upstate (see illustration).
16 percent on the thigh
8 percent around the waist
8 percent on the stomach
7 percent on the groin
7 percent on the upper back (see note)
7 percent on the scalp
6 percent upper arm
6 percent behind the knee
6 percent calf or shin
5 percent in armpit
5 percent on the neck
4 percent on the lower back
(Note: Those found on the upper back were most likely to carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.)
Source: Saravanan Thangamani, PhD