Study: Rise in Midwest tick-borne disease due to climate change

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COLUMBIA, Mo.– A University of Missouri study looked at the recent rise in tick-borne diseases. The findings show factors ranging from outdoor fitness activities during COVID to relocation to suburban areas as reasons for the uptick in cases.

The study is the most comprehensive of its kind in the Midwest region of the U.S. The researchers collected and identified species of ticks near Pittsburg, Kansas twice a month for a three-year period.

“We have seen increases recently in both the number and severity of tick-borne diseases in the Midwest, particularly in the humid climates of Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas,” said Ram Raghavan, one of the researchers in a statement from the university. 

He also said more people are getting infected by tick-borne disease each year than any other vector-borne disease so it is important to better understand what type of ticks are in the region and when they are the most prevalent.

The research found a majority of the ticks to be most active in the humid spring and summer seasons.

The study also found other factors that contribute to the rise in tick-borne diseases are:

  • Humans increasing relocating from densely populated urban cities to more suburban areas that are closer to forests and grasslands where ticks live
  • Outdoor fitness activities have become popular, especially since COVID and during the warmer spring and summer months
  • Climate change has played a role, bringing warmer temperatures and humidity that seem to be creating perfect conditions for ticks and the pathogens they carry to survive
  • Sharp increase in white-tailed deer, the primary host for the most common tick in the Midwest

Raghavan noted that because there are currently no vaccines for tick-borne diseases, prevention and awareness are the best line of defense.

Some ways to prevent a tick bite include:

  • Wearing protective clothing such as long-sleeve shirts and pants when walking outdoors or on hiking trails
  • Spraying permethrin insect repellent
  • Staying on a main trail, away from vegetation
  • Keeping dogs on leash to prevent pets from getting ticks
  • Check yourself and pets for any ticks after being outdoors

Raghavan, became interested in the danger of tick-borne disease after learning a 7-year-old girl had died as the result of a tick bite and it made him think of his own daughter.

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