Study at Fort McCoy helps identify tick, Lyme disease risks
July 21, 2011
FORT McCOY, Wis. -- Researchers are helping Fort McCoy learn more about the prevalence of Lyme disease on the installation while collecting valuable data in a regional effort to better understand the ecological factors associated with Lyme disease in the eastern United States.
Isis Kuczaj, a Michigan State University graduate student, is leading a three-member research team at Fort McCoy. Michigan State University is part of a six-university team conducting research at three sites at Fort McCoy and at seven locations in the eastern region of the U.S.
In addition to Fort McCoy, two other military facilities are participating in the research " Arnold Air Force Base, Tenn., and Savannah River Site, S.C.
“Areas in the East Coast, Great Lakes and Midwest Regions are a hotbed of Lyme disease cases, however, few cases are reported in the southern U.S.,” Kuczaj said. “Our studies are taking a look at the ecological drivers of Lyme disease in the northern and southern regions of the United States to answer questions about the variation in Lyme disease risk in these areas.”
Crew members collect tick samples from vegetation and wildlife at Fort McCoy, Kuczaj said. Vegetation is sampled by dragging a white cloth over the vegetation to collect ticks about every 15 meters.
Kuczaj said small mammals are trapped and specimens collected before the mammals are tagged and then released back into the wild.
Ticks pick up the Lyme disease bacteria from many types of animal hosts, mainly small mammals, which include mice, shrews, voles or other rodents.
Deer do not carry the Lyme disease bacteria, but are important for adult tick reproduction and can transport ticks carrying the bacteria between two or more locations, she said.
The sampling is done at about three-week intervals, with laboratory work being conducted between field collections, Kuczaj said.
“We treat the small mammals very kindly,” Kuczaj said. “They are fed, have the intrusive ticks removed and are cleaned and then released in the same spots they were captured, no worse for the wear. Some of the specimens will be trapped more than once over the course of a summer " and perhaps even a second summer " for examination.”
This is the second summer the crew has conducted the research at Fort McCoy, Kuczaj said.
Fieldwork will continue through next summer, after which samples and data will continue to be analyzed through 2013.
The information is provided to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the Fort McCoy Natural Resources Branch (NRB), she said.
Many factors can affect the research. For example, Kuczaj said the weather and breeding seasons can play a role in what species they capture or the age of the specimens they capture.
The three-member crew at Fort McCoy also includes Lydia Kramer, an undergraduate student from Michigan State University, and Marty Williamson, a volunteer and University of Wisconsin-River Falls student. Kramer and Williamson both are gaining research experience while pursuing their undergraduate degrees.
David Beckmann, wildlife biologist for the Fort McCoy NRB, said the installation supports the study because it contributes data for the broader understanding of Lyme disease distribution and provides more information about Lyme disease and other zoonotic diseases on the installation.
“We know the Lyme disease and anaplasomsis risks are high at Fort McCoy,” Beckmann said. “The big thing is to find out how prevalent they are, and what the trends are.”
Because the study also includes vegetation structure, Beckmann said it can help provide information about the relationships between the small mammals and vegetation they use at Fort McCoy. This information can be used to help the installation manage wildlife habitats and reduce the Lyme disease risk.
“The best strategy is to avoid the ticks if at all possible,” Beckmann said. “You should know what to do to protect yourself from ticks and possible Lyme disease, what to do if you find one on your body, and the symptoms of Lyme disease.”
Michigan State University developed an informational brochure that the installation adapted for local use. Beckmann said it is available through the Installation Safety Office (ISO), building 1678 or NRB in building 2168.
For more information at Fort McCoy, call the ISO at 608-388-3403 or the NRB at 608-388-3337 or 5374.