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TickSpotters Fall 2013 Results

March 21, 2014

If you thought that ticks are killed by the frosts that arrive in mid-October, then TickEncounter's tick activity map for Fall, 2013 may be a bit of a surprise for you!

Thousands of citizen-scientists have already joined TickEncounter's new TickSpotters crowd-sourced survey to help track tick encounter trends across America. Knowing what kind of tick bit you or your pet is important as different species of ticks transmit different disease-causing agents. Know your tick... know your disease risk! Some types of ticks require different control strategies, too.

TickSpotter Fall 2013

"Fall is definitely adult blacklegged tick season in America" stated TickGuy Tom Mather, director of the University of Rhode Island TickEncounter Resource Center, in reviewing TickSpotters submissions from mid-October to December 31. Blacklegged ticks (Ixodes scapularis), commonly called deer ticks in the eastern United States, made up at least 76% of all submissions, while western blacklegged ticks (Ixodes pacificus) contributed another 3% from the west coast. Brown dog ticks (Rhipicephalus sanguineus) made up about 8%.

"We expected to see lots of deer ticks in New England and the mid-Atlantic states but we were surprised to see the distribution pattern extending into western portions of Pennsylvania and even into Ohio," said Mather. "In Ohio for example, many doctors and veterinarians often don't consider a diagnosis of Lyme disease because there have been so few reports of vector deer ticks from the state," explained Mather. "TickSpotters reporting may open some eyes." Citing another interesting trend, Mather noted an intensive cluster of reports from the areas north, east and south of Pittsburg, PA, and exclaimed that this should be a real call for more intensive public health action in that region, in particular.

During the Fall 2013 period, the TickSpotters program logged submissions from 43 of the 50 United States (and even a few from Canada). The region most notably without any submissions was the upper Mountain states. While states like Montana, Idaho, Utah, and Colorado have plenty of ticks, especially wood ticks, these ticks are just not active during the Fall. "We've started to get reports of wood ticks beginning in mid-February, and the number of submissions of those ticks is picking up every week now," stated Mather.

The category labeled "other" included a large number of submissions marked "I don't know" and were submitted without a picture. Mather guessed that based on the time of year and location, most of those "other" ticks were likely either deer ticks or brown dog ticks. "We did get 2 Lone Star tick submissions from Florida during that Fall time period that were verified with a picture."

On the importance of snapping a picture and including it with the TickSpotters submission, Mather explained that it is really helpful and makes the data being collected that much more useful. "Crowd-sourced tick-encounter data that can't be verified still has value but we're able to provide more helpful feedback to people with a tick-bite if we know for certain what type of tick they've encountered." Of the Fall 2013 sample, 17% were accompanied by a picture, and of those about 25% were misclassified (reported as something other than what the picture showed). TickEncounter implemented a "snap a pic—it's important" campaign in late February and already picture submissions have increased to almost 50% of recent submissions.

Asked what surprised him most, the TickGuy said that he found the clusters of brown dog ticks from Tampa to Miami FL and from the Phoenix/Scottsdale AZ areas to be troubling. In following up with many of those TickSpotters, he said it was clear that brown dog ticks exact a huge financial toll on their victims. "Getting rid of brown dog ticks can cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars, and we found that people were having a lot of trouble finding qualified professionals with effective solutions. Some exterminators were just using the wrong products for tick control."

Because TickSpotters is a tool for tracking tick encounter trends, TickEncounter encourages people to submit their ticks with a picture every time they find one.