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Scientists have made a map of dangerous diseases that ticks can cause

Lyme map of the project, with darker colors indicating reported cases of Lyme disease in 2019.

Lyme map of the project, with darker colors indicating reported cases of Lyme disease in 2019.
Graphic: Curriero et al / PLOS-One

It may be winter in the US, but it’s always a good time to refresh your innate fear of creeping insects that make us sick. In a new article this week, Johns Hopkins researchers went into detail about creating their Lyme and Tick-borne Diseases Toolbar… The project provides an easy-to-navigate map that tracks the spread of tick germs throughout the United States, as well as lessons on why ticks and the diseases they carry are becoming an increasingly common problem over time.

Mosquitoes may be the most dangerous animal disease vector in the world, but the eight-legged tick reigns supreme in the United States. Lyme disease is the most common disease spread by insects or arachnids in the United States, and scientists are still discovering new germs that ticks can spread. The threat of tick infestation also appears to be on the increase, in part due to the warmer climate affecting ticks and the woody environment in which they live.

Given the growing importance of these microbes to health, researchers at John Hopkins wanted to create a new tool to map the spread of tick-borne diseases around the world. They were inspired by the efforts of their colleagues who developed covid-19 tracking panel in the early stages of a pandemic, which is still widely used today.

The first version of the Johns Hopkins Lyme and Tick-borne Disease Dashboard was launched in May. But the researchers behind this published by an article this week in PLOS-One describing its design and implementation.

At the moment, the project is limited to the USA and Canada, but contains a lot of data related to ticks. Its main attraction is Lyme Map, provides national, state and local overview of reported Lyme disease cases and incidence rates from 2000 to 2019. Nationally, these cases peak around June and July and have grown steadily over the past two decades. You can even find Lyme cases in your local area.

Elsewhere you can read data explorer, allowing you to study trends not only for Lyme, but for many other diseases that these ticks can carry, including Babeyosis, Anaplasmosis, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. And you can see the spread of the two main types of ticks in the United States that are disease vectors, Ixodes scapularis and Ixodes pacificuswhich cover the east and west coasts respectively.

It is important to note that these reported cases represent only a small fraction of the harm caused by mite microbes, the authors note. For example, in 2019, there were about 35,000 cases of Lyme disease. But the true death toll that year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was likely closer to 476,000 cases.

Finally, on their Geography, ticks and you In this section, you can get a brief explanation of tick-borne diseases, including the risk factors that make them all the more troublesome. As previously mentioned, this includes climate change as it results in longer summers and warmer winters, allowing ticks to breed and stay active for longer each year. But the growth of “fragmented forests” – the clearing of large forests to make way for human development in the suburbs – can also negatively alter the environment, for example, by increasing the population of natural mite hosts such as the white-footed mouse.

Much of the design intent should be easily understood by the general public. But collecting all of this data, often sourced from local health departments or universities with tick surveillance programs, in one place should also be a boon for fellow tick researchers in the future. And the team is really planning a global expansion to cover the tick threat all over the place.

“We envision the dashboard as a global tracking tool for tick-borne diseases that will not only help inform various users around the world (eg public health, advocacy organizations, donors and funders) of the increasing global impact of these diseases, but also serve a resource for researchers studying their spatial variability, ”they wrote.

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