Life Cycle of The Tick From The CDC

The Tick App Tracking Staten Island’s Tick Population, Diseases. An Interview With Professor Maria Diuk-Wasser

The Tick App was created by researchers at Columbia University in order to study the prevalence of ticks, the likelihood of getting tick bites in urban areas, and how tick-borne diseases are spread. Maria Diuk-Wasser is a professor and researcher at Columbia, in the Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology Department. Staten Islander News Service interviewed the professor about the app.

Maria-Diuk-Wasser

Maria-Diuk-Wasser

The Tick App requires participants to track their activities for 15 days, even if they are not walking in the woods or exposed to ticks on those days. This gives the university data on the movements of people, and the likelihood that they will be exposed to ticks during certain times or when visiting certain places. This has also made it more difficult to collect the necessary data, as many users only log relevant activities, such as hiking or gardening in their backyards.

The Tick App

The Tick App

Users of the app can know that they are helping to provide very important information about the transmission of tick-based diseases, as well as the movements and prevalence of ticks in the urban environment. The Tick App is specifically targeted to Staten Islanders, as it has been determined that Staten Island has quite a lot of ticks, which can mean many more future cases of Lyme Disease.

Below is a video created and released by Columbia University about the ease of using the Tick App to track tick exposure and to help the research project.

 

However, part of the purpose of the app is to find ways to prevent tickborne disease transmission, and to find out where the ticks are most prevalent. This can help these and other researchers to come up with interventions, either at the mouse (1st vector) stage, at the deer stage, or at the general environment stage (such as by broad based application of pesticide in the environment, which for toxicity and sustainability reasons would not be ideal), that can help to reduce the tick populations and thus reduce the spread of the diseases they carry.

Tick App Enrollment Map

Tick App Enrollment Map

As we have covered previously, there are several interventions that are being tested in the woods of Staten Island and other part of New York. In Staten Island particularly, there have been planted mouse bait boxes in various wooded areas, to provide white-footed mice and chipmunks with a dose of insecticide that kills any ticks that they are carrying. This program is still in a pilot phase, but shows great promise in reducing the tick populations.

Life Cycle of The Tick From The CDC

Life Cycle of The Tick From The CDC

Similarly, in upstate New York, there are bait stations for deer, where insecticide is rubbed onto the heads and antlers of deer who eat the bait. This then kills the later phases of ticks that live on the deer, particularly the reproductive phase of the ticks.

As Professor Diuk-Wasser makes clear, this app is a great research tool, and will help scientists to determine the best interventions to prevent the spread of tickborne diseases now and in the future going forward. It is clear from its funding that the CDC is very committed to preventing the further spread of Lyme disease, although this is definitely not the only tickborne illness (nor is it necessarily the most debilitating). The CDC has been tracking cases of Lyme Disease in the United States, and particularly the East Coast, since at least 2001. The latest year’s data, from 2018, can be found here.

The CDC’s map of Lyme Disease spread can be found at the CDC’s website. Lyme disease is highly concentrated on the East Coast, particularly New York City, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. However, cases have been found as far west as California and Washington State. It is hoped by the CDC, the National Science Foundation, and other funders and researchers involved that the spread of tickborne diseases can be slowed or stopped.

Spread of Lyme Disease From The CDC

Spread of Lyme Disease From The CDC

After the Tick App’s run has been finished, Professor Diuk-Wasser’s next projects will take her into the territory of mosquitoes, where mosquito exposure would be tracked, although the actual methods are not yet in a planning phase. There might be an app, there might be a website, but this is simply speculation at this time. There are many mosquito-borne bacterial diseases, and these will be studied by future ventures, so be on the lookout for these as well.

Professor Diuk-Wasser is very interested in the emergence and transmission of vector-based diseases, including but not limited to Lyme Disease, malaria, dengue, and West Nile virus. The current research project is funded through the next year, although its grant may be renewed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Science Foundation for another year.

Other researchers involved in the Tick App project include Gebbiena M. Bron, Maria del Pilar Fernandez, Lyric C. Bartholomay, Susan M. Paskewitz, and Jean I. Tsao.  The researchers are from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Columbia University, and the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Michigan State University.

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