It’s a cool summer day, about 71 degrees. The humidity is high, but not through the roof. You head for the woods. If this is you then you are likely going on a nature walk, maybe a hike with the kids, or possibly you just need the fresh air to clear your head. That’s what most people would do in the woods. However, if you are a scientific researcher from the Minnesota Health Department, then you are dragging the woods for ticks.
On this lovely day at Camp Ripley, Minnesota these scientists are teaming up with the Mayo clinic to gather tick samples. The goal is to collect 300 ticks, adult, and nymph, and test them for disease pathogens.
What is a tick drag exactly?
Researchers will dress themselves head to in protective clothing, pants duct taped into boots, bring along magnifiers so they can see the tiniest of ticks, tweezers for pulling the ticks off carefully, vials to put them in, and drag the forest.
With a large piece of white canvas attached by rope to dowels on each side, they drag it across the ground hoping that ticks, looking for the next blood meal, will latch on. That is how ticks are collected and returned to the lab for study. Jenna Bjork, an epidemiologist with the Minnesota Health Department, says that tick collection isn’t predictable and ticks prefer about 85% humidity and hotter weather but they are hopeful today.
The State of Minnesota’s Role in Tick Control
This spring, the CDC reported that vector-borne illness has tripled between the years of 2004 and 2016. It was also very critical of state health departments for their work in prevention and control. Rebecca Eisen, a research biologist in the vector-borne disease control division of the CDC, stated that few of these agencies do surveillance or control work related to ticks.
Fortunately, for Minnesota, that is not the case. The Minnesota Health Department has resources for weekly tick drags such as these. “Fieldwork gives us a chance to really speak from experience,” says Dave Neitzel, supervisor of the department’s vector-borne diseases unit.
This field work makes it possible to answer questions in Minnesota that other states may not be as fortunate to have answered about the risks for exposure to ticks and threat of illness when out walking in the woods. Approximately 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to the CDC each year while the estimated actual number of cases is closer to 300,000. Neitzel believes that other states really risk large inaccuracies by only looking at human cases and leaving out field work such as routine tick drags and similar fieldwork.
Ticks and the diseases they carry are so much more prevalent now that you really have to be aware of the risks any time you are out in the woods. Continuous studies like this can make it all easier to track, making diagnosis and treatment of tick-borne illness faster and more accurate. We are lucky to have an engaged Department of Health here in Minnesota.
We are engaged at Mosquito Squad of Twin Cities as well. Our focus is keeping the ticks out of your yard altogether. Our tick control program eliminate 85-90% of adult ticks on your property. We are thrilled to have researchers out in the woods and more thrilled to keep the ticks out there with them… away from our homes. Call us today for information on services and to schedule your first treatment. We can’t wait to speak with you.