Tick monitoring and control is lacking in much of the United States despite a steady increase in tick-borne illnesses, such as Lyme disease, a new study finds.
In the United States, tick-borne illnesses more than doubled between 2004 and 2018, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
For the new study, the researchers surveyed tick management programs across the country. They found that less than half of public health and vector-control agencies do active tick surveillance, and only 12 percent directly conduct or otherwise support tick-control efforts. Vector-control agencies monitor pests like ticks and mosquitoes that can transmit, or "vector," diseases (like Lyme) to humans.
The study was conducted by researchers at the CDC's five Vector-Borne Disease Regional Centers of Excellence. The results were published June 17 in the Journal of Medical Entomology.
"Ticks are responsible for the majority of our vector-borne illnesses in the U.S., and our programming does not adequately meet the need in its current form, for both surveillance and control," said study lead author Emily Mader. She's program manager of the Northeast Regional Center for Excellence in Vector-Borne Diseases, located at Cornell University in New York.
The researchers surveyed 140 vector-borne disease professionals at state, county, and local agencies in the fall of 2018. They found that while 65 percent said their programs do passive tick surveillance, such as accepting tick samples submitted by the public, only 46 percent said their programs routinely collect tick samples in their community.
Only 26 percent of survey respondents said their jurisdictions conduct or fund testing of ticks for disease-causing pathogens. Just 7 percent said their programs evaluate the presence of such pathogens in animals -- such as mice and other rodents -- from which ticks get those pathogens.
"Pathogen testing is an essential component of surveillance and is needed in order to understand tick-borne disease risk to communities," Mader said in a news release from the Entomological Society of America. "There appears to be a significant barrier for many tick-surveillance programs across the country to access pathogen-testing services."
Only 12 percent of survey respondents said their jurisdiction conducts or funds tick control, with those efforts primarily focused on reducing ticks on animal hosts, such as deer and rodents.