Tiny ticks are a big problem. Measuring only three to five millimeters in size, ticks are widely distributed around the world. They are external parasites, feasting on the blood of birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals – including humans.
According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ticks infect more than 300,000 people with Lyme disease in the United States every year, and the numbers continue to rise. Other common tick-borne diseases include anaplasmosis, babesiosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and powassan encephalitis.
But while the prevalence of tick-borne illnesses has steadily increased in the United States over the past two decades, a new study on tick surveillance and control “has revealed an inconsistent and often under-supported patchwork of programs across the country.”
The study, by university researchers at the CDC’s five Vector-Borne Disease Regional Centers of Excellence, is the first-ever examination of tick management programs in the United States. The researchers found clear gaps in our public health infrastructure.
According to the study, which was recently published in the Journal of Medical Entomology, less than 50% of public health and vector-control agencies conduct tick surveillance. Only 25% test ticks for disease-causing germs. And only 12% conduct or support tick-control efforts. Researchers also discovered that the capacity for public tick-control efforts is low, as is the capacity for information and data sharing between agencies on ticks.
The findings highlight the degree to which tick surveillance and control is lagging in the United States. According to the research team, greater support for tick-management programs is critical, and they hope their findings will serve as a baseline from which to measure future improvements.
Photo, posted May 4, 2009, courtesy of Jerry Kirkhart via Flickr.