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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Columbia: Study in Long Island Finds Multiple Agents of Tick-Borne Diseases

In a study published in mBio, Dr. Rafal Tokarz, assistant professor in the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, and co-authors at Stony Brook and Columbia reported on the prevalence of multiple agents capable of causing human disease that are present in three species of ticks in Long Island.

Researchers collected ticks from multiple locations in central and eastern Long Island, where seven diseases caused by microbes transmitted by ticks are present. They examined 1,633 individual ticks for 12 separate microbes, and found that more than half of the Ixodes (deer ticks) were infected with the Lyme disease agent, followed by infections with the agents of Babesiosis and Anaplasmosis. Nearly one-quarter of these ticks are infected with more than one agent, resulting in the possibility of simultaneous transmission from a single tick bite.

Notably, the lone star tick, a species originating from the southern U.S., has expanded its range, possibly fueled by climate change. This study documents that the invasive lone star tick is abundant in Long Island, and that it is a very aggressive tick that can transmit a bacterium that causes a disease known as Ehrlichiosis. The lone star tick has also been implicated in cases of a novel form of meat allergy, and the immature stages can cause uncomfortable dermatitis.

“Polymicrobial infections represent an important aspect of tick-borne diseases that can complicate diagnosis and augment disease severity,” says corresponding author Dr. Jorge Benach, Distinguished Professor at Stony Brook.

“In evaluating tick-borne infection, more than one organism needs to be considered,” says Dr. Tokarz, senior author.. “This study emphasizes the need to focus on all tick-borne diseases, not just Lyme.”

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