Army tick experts promote prevention tactics

By Cara Newcomer, Public Affairs Intern, Army Public Health CenterJuly 6, 2017

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With the summer season in full swing, Army Public Health Center tick-borne disease experts recognize the undeniable presence of ticks, emphasizing the importance of being aware of the different illnesses they can transmit and ways to prevent these illnesses.

Dr. Robyn Nadolny, a biologist and program coordinator at the APHC Tick-Borne Disease Laboratory, which is part of the APHC Laboratory Sciences Directorate, presented her ecological sciences Ph.D. dissertation from Old Dominion University at an event on May 31 at Aberdeen Proving Ground to attendees where she discussed the spread of tick-borne diseases to different areas.

While not every tick is infected, experts believe it is important to use protective measures against all ticks and the diseases they can carry. Ellen Stromdahl, an APHC entomologist and the other program coordinator at the Tick-Borne Disease Laboratory, emphasized disease prevention saying, ticks are everywhere and people need to make themselves aware.

"Anyone can get a tick and get sick," she said.

These tick experts advise the use of an insect repellent containing DEET on exposed skin and insect repellent containing permethrin on clothing. The Army treats their uniforms with permethrin repellent to further protect Soldiers while they are in uniform, according to Stromdahl. Civilians can also order clothing treated with permethrin.

Prompt removal of a tick is one way to reduce risk of disease transmission, Stromdahl said. If a tick is found attached to the skin, experts recommend removing the tick by using pointy tweezers, grabbing the tick close to the skin and pulling it out slowly.

Nadolny and Stromdahl also recommend doing a thorough tick check after spending time in tick habitat and putting clothes through a cycle on hot in the dryer immediately after getting home in order kill any ticks on the clothes.

The Army Public Health Center offers a program to military personnel, their dependents and Department of Defense civilians called the DOD Human Tick Test Kit Program, where ticks can be sent for identification and disease testing. The program is meant to serve as a 'first alert' for tick-bite patients and their health care providers, according to APHC representatives.

Ticks can spread diseases to people, pets and other animals through pathogens in their saliva. These pathogens have been linked to causing diseases like Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, anaplasmosis and other diseases, including viral diseases. Stromdahl said awareness of some of the lesser known tick-borne diseases is important.

Both Stromdahl and Nadolny stressed that different tick species carry different diseases. Stromdahl gave examples of the lone star tick, which vectors the agent of ehrlichiosis, and the blacklegged or deer tick, which vectors the agents of Lyme disease, babesiosis and anaplasmosis. Nadolny focused on the Gulf Coast tick, which vectors the agent of Tidewater spotted fever, and Ixodes affinis, the scientific name of an ixodid tick that doesn't bite humans, but does transmit the agent of Lyme disease among animals.

The lone star tick is the tick most commonly found in the APG area, according to Nadolny.

"We can go out and collect four species of ticks in a 10-foot radius in 20 minutes just on this post," Nadolny said after her dissertation presentation at the Army installation.

Nadolny anticipates that the Gulf Coast tick and I. affinis will establish populations in Maryland over the next five to 10 years, maybe sooner. She attributed the ticks' expanding ranges to climate change, anthropogenic changes to the environment through habitat modification and host movements.

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