33 percent of area ticks carry Lyme disease, finds Pitt-Johnstown study
Excerpted from the Tribune’Democrat : (09/26/2016)
But the results of the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown associate professor’s multi-year study shocked her anyway.
DNA testing of 500 deer ticks caught across the region showed that one in three carried the Lyme bacteria, Henning and a team of six Pitt-Johnstown students found.
“Typically when you think about Lyme disease issues, people think of it as an East Coast thing. But the results show just how much it’s spreading west across the state,” she said. “It really shows that we’re dealing with a problem that continues to grow.”
Henning researched ticks and Lyme disease as an undergraduate and studied infectious diseases as a grad student at The University of Pittsburgh.
It wasn’t long after she joined Pitt-Johnstown’s faculty in 2010 that she realized it made good sense to continue her research, she said.
“This is an active area. A lot of people are into hiking and biking and other outdoor activities … and there isn’t a lot of research regarding ticks and their association with Lyme disease in this part of Pennsylvania,” she said.
The research also allowed her to biology students to gain engaging experience both in the field and in a lab setting, Henning said.
The team focused its research on “questing” deer ticks – those hunting for a new host – in Bedford, Cambria, Indiana and Westmoreland counties.
They acquired a state Game Commission permit to collect the tiny arachnids inside game land property, areas that are typically havens for mammals like mice, rabbits and deer that ticks feed on throughout their lifespan, she said.
Students dragged a white sheet through six different forested areas like the Prince Gallitzin area and central Bedford County to pick up the ticks.
“I made them pull up their hair and wear white so that any ticks that jumped on to them were easy to spot,” Henning said. Any openings between clothing where skin might be accessible were fastened with duct tape, she said.
Once students were back on campus, they crushed the ticks’ bodies with tweezers, she said. Their remains were placed into containers for DNA testing.
Approximately 500 deer ticks were tested – a four-hour process each time, Pitt-Johnstown senior Corey Coleman, 21, said.
The results stunned him, too.
“When you think of Lyme disease, you think it’s some kind of rare occurrence. But this shows that if you get bit by a tick, the odds aren’t rare that you can get it,” said Coleman. of Central City.