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Tick and Vector-borne Disease News

Tick and Vector-borne Disease News
March 1, 2023

As I'm writing this article, we've had some 60 and 70 degree days in February. Looks like an early spring despite what Punsxutawney Phil said. Here at the veterinary hospital we start thinking about those pesky bugs that bother our pets, especially fleas and ticks. In reality we never stop thinking about them and the diseases they transmit. In January we saw several outdoor cats who live in barns that came to us with ticks embedded in their skin. And flea problems seem to be never ending.

Today, I'd like to key in on some recent information I've come across about ticks. We know that ticks carry more pathogens (disease-causing agents) than fleas. They also seem to be "on the move." By that I mean their habitats have been increasing over the past few years. Believe it or not, there are state agencies and university departments that track ticks and their diseases and where they are located. This is good work, because they can warn the public of new health-related developments in our area.

One information disconnect that exists is that the human tick disease cases are not required to be reported, and the ones that are reported must have a positive test. Those cases number about 35,000 the past few years. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates, in reality, there could be 10-13 times more  which never get recorded. A doctor may suspect Lyme Disease in a patient, treat with an appropriate antibiotic, patient improves, and nothing is ever recorded nationally.

On the veterinary side, we had 195 positive tests for one of three tick diseases in 2022. The most prevalent being Lyme. The previous year, the number was 140. Tick habitat is important. Some prefer the woods, and others, the grassy areas. For example, when I'm driving north on State Road 129 towards Batesville, many new houses can be seen going up. And land is being cleared for more. To the ticks, that is prime habitat being invaded by humans and pets, They will be looking for a blood meal. 

Researchers at the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine bring us some rare good news regarding tick diseases. They have developed a test to screen dogs and cats for 22 different vector-borne pathogens, such as those transmitted through the bite of a mosquito, flea, or tick. Before this development, the best test available could only test for 3 or 4 pathogens at a time. The test uses a process that can sequence large amounts of DNA for a more accurate identification of a wider range of pathogens. The Animal Disease Diagnostic Lab, located adjacent to the vet school, is now offering this test for client owned dogs. and cats. Perhaps this new process will  lead to advances in diagnosing vector-borne diseases in humans.

Early diagnosis and treatment is especially critical when it comes to zoonotic diseases, those that can be transmitted from animals to man. Since we have an abundance of  ticks in our area that carry disease, particularly Lyme, it is encouraging to know that there are advances being made to help our pets and their owners. Until more research brings new, favorable developments in our fight against ticks and vector-borne disease, continue to be faithful to your pet by protecting it from ticks and fleas all year. Check with your veterinarian for the best product to use in your situation.


Submitted by:
Harley Robinson, DVM