Rural Missouri - July 2021 - 19

TICK AWAY SUMMER
Missourians tasked to assist with statewide study
by Zach Smith | zsmith@ruralmissouri.coop
N
o matter how you enjoy summer in Missouri,
you're sure to encounter ticks on your outdoor
adventures. At least fi ve species of humanbiting
ticks are here, and Missourians likely are
familiar with some of the resulting bacteria, viruses and
diseases these bloodsucking parasites carry, including
Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. In recent
years the infamous arachnids have brewed up fear across
the state, and an alliance of university, state and citizen
scientists are teaming up to address concerns over health
risks associated with tick bites.
" We get a lot of public input about uncertainty around
tick-borne illness, " says Matt Combes, ecological health
unit science supervisor for the Missouri Department of
Conservation. " We ask the public to recreate
on our properties, but at the same time
there's a lot of stuff in the news - especially
Lyme disease back east - so people are
having trouble deciding whether or not they
should do outdoor recreation. "
MDC and A.T. Still University in Kirksville
came up with a plan that is simple to state and
massive in scale: Find out what species of ticks
are found in Missouri at the county level and if
they are harboring four known human pathogens. The
goal is to generate a map of the species of ticks and the
disease-causing pathogens carried by them which will
in turn aid physicians across Missouri in diagnosing
illnesses that much faster. To accomplish that, they've
enlisted the help of Missouri's citizen scientists to send in
the ticks they fi nd. Through September 2022, Missourians
can send ticks to the university to aid the study.
" Missouri is considered a gap state, " says Deb Hudman,
announcing the study, Deb had received more than 8,341
samples from 113 counties.
" That doesn't include today, and I have 168 letters
in my mail, " Deb says. " It's more than I ever could have
imagined. We fi gured maybe by the end of the year, but
we're only a few months into this. "
" It's gone viral, " Matt agrees with a laugh. " People are
hearing about it second and third hand, calling MDC to
fi gure out how to participate. "
Participation, however, doesn't mean ignoring the
proper precautions for enjoying the outdoors over the
next two summers. If you're heading out for a walk or just
a few hours in the backyard, a few extra steps can help
protect you. Limit your contact with shrubby, waist-high
vegetation and wear the appropriate clothing. Long pants
tucked into socks and long sleeve shirts tucked into pants
help cover the skin, and light colored clothing gives you a
better chance of spotting ticks.
Kirksville
" When you get inside, thoroughly scan your body, "
Deb says. " It takes some time for them to start
transmitting diseases and it varies how long that
time is, but the sooner you get them off the better
off you are. "
Those spending extended time outdoors
might consider taping the cuffs of pants and
shirts closed, applying tick repellent or coating
clothing - not your skin - with insecticides such
as Permethrin. Some brands of clothing can be purchased
pre-treated for ticks, and some companies will treat your
clothing for you. Treated clothing can withstand a certain
number of wash cycles before the effect begins to diminish
and should always be washed separately from other
untreated garments.
Landowners with recreational properties or large
senior research associate in A.T. Still University's
Department of Microbiology and Immunology who is
conducting the study. She notes that in many cases,
instances of a specifi c tick-borne illness being confi rmed
in Missouri has doubled in the past decade. " If this data
has been looked at before, it's been very limited in scope to
smaller areas. "
By studying the types of ticks found in each of the
state's 114 counties, Deb can then test a subset of those
for particular human pathogens that species is known
to carry. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
lists more than a dozen illnesses including ehrlichiosis
and tularemia that can be transmitted to humans. Data
on others such as Bourbon virus and reactions such as
alpha-gal allergy are still emerging. The more samples Deb
can gather, the more knowledge the medical community
can hopefully glean from her fi ndings.
Missourians were happy to help. Only two months after
backyards also can help limit their exposure by keeping
any walking paths or tractor trails well-groomed. Ticks
thrive in humid environments, and more exposure
to sunlight keeps vegetation dry. Matt also advises
eliminating invasive plant species such as bush
honeysuckle and autumn olive where possible.
" Those are tick factories, " Matt says, " and if you have
native plants or fl owers planted, just don't walk through
them very much.
" Going outside and doing recreation has a lot of positive
health benefi ts - far more than staying inside your whole
life, " he adds. " Go out and enjoy nature but do it so that
you keep yourself safe. "
For more information on the statewide tick study
and how to submit research samples, visit https://bit.
ly/32MiTNK. If you're experiencing symptoms of a tickborne
illness or have questions about medical issues,
consult your doctor or health care provider.
JULY 2021 | RURALMISSOURI.COOP 19
https://bit.ly/32MiTNK https://bit.ly/32MiTNK http://www.RURALMISSOURI.COOP

Rural Missouri - July 2021

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