Increase in tick-borne diseases requires extra vigilance
September 10, 2012
Insects that carry human diseases are thriving thanks to a warm winter and the ongoing heat of this summer. While many people are on alert for mosquito bites because of the increasing prevalence of West Nile virus, none of us can afford to forget the health threats posed by ticks.
Whenever Soldiers train in the field or hike with family or friends, prevention of tick bites should be on the list of necessary preparations, according to Ellen Stromdahl. Stromdahl, an entomologist, manages the Army Public Health Command laboratory that analyzes ticks for DOD physicians and beneficiaries.
Stromdahl and a colleague from the University of Tennessee published study results this week from the first multi-state comparison of ticks that carry human diseases. The study associates tick types and the diseases they carry with their locations in the continental U.S.
While Lyme disease is most common in the Northeast and upper Midwest, the new study shows that Lyme disease is not the disease of greatest concern in most Southeastern states.
The reason is that ticks in the Southeast are of different species than their more northerly counterparts, and they carry different diseases, Stromdahl said. People who live in the Southeast are more likely to encounter ticks that carry spotted fever rickettsiosis and ehrlichiosis than ticks that carry Lyme disease.
"Ticks are on the move as climate and weather change over time, though," Stromdahl said. "That's why it's important for scientists to continue our surveillance of tick populations and to look at large, regional tick populations."
Knowing which ticks predominate in each location helps physicians improve diagnoses of patients bitten by ticks, as does the DOD Human Tick Test Kit Program, a free tick identification and testing service for DOD healthcare facilities that Stromdahl runs. And that knowledge reminds the rest of us to be alert to the harm a tick bite can do.
Stromdahl advises those who find ticks biting them to capture the tick, save it and take it to their physician if they are concerned about disease or if symptoms (rashes or flu-like illness) occur. The proper way to extract a biting tick is with tweezers, grasping the tick's mouthparts as close to the skin as possible, and pulling slowly and firmly to ease the mouthparts out of the skin, she said. The tick may be saved in the freezer in a clean, dry container.
Medical treatment facilities may forward ticks to the DOD Human Tick Test Kit Program. Information on the program and how to submit ticks is available from the USAPHC at
Military providers are urged to educate their patients about saving the ticks that bite them. A downloadable fact sheet that identifies tick species, explains how to remove and preserve them, and provides preventive information for patients is available at http://phc.amedd.army.mil/PHCResourceLibrary/18-028-0107-Tick-Borne_Diseases.pdf.
A search for "tick-borne disease" on the USAPHC Web site (http://phc.amedd.army.mil) yields multiple fact sheets on individual diseases, prevention and treatment.
The research article Stromdahl co-authored on tick species, the pathogens they carry, and their distribution in the U.S. is published in Zoonoses and Public Health, online at