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Disease-Carrying Ticks May Have Migrated To Alaska

July 31st, 2018

We all know that ticks are a threat to many Americans, and they are becoming more threatening with each passing year. It is well known that tick populations are most abundant with the American northeast, and they are becoming increasingly problematic in the south, the Midwest and the northwest. Although populations of disease-carrying ticks may be increasing in multiple regions across America, ticks certainly could not be a threat in frigid Alaska, right? Well, at the moment, ticks are not much of a threat in the state of Alaska, but state officials believe that climate change may bring ticks into the state. Surprisingly, ticks can, in fact, be found in Alaska, but their population is still sparse in the state. Researchers will soon gather multiple ticks within Alaska in order to have them analyzed for the presence of pathogens that can cause Lyme disease, tularemia, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and a variety of other tick-borne diseases. Researchers have never collected tick specimens for analyses within the state of Alaska before, so they are not exactly sure what sort of pathogens they may find.

According to Kimberlee Beckmen, a wildlife veterinarian with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Fairbanks, climate change may make certain regions of Alaska more hospitable to tick species, so public health officials within the state need to be prepared for their arrival. Micah Hahn, an assistant professor of environmental health at the University of Alaska at Anchorage and the lead on the new research project has said that public health officials in Alaska must have a baseline so that ticks in the state can be monitored before they become a public health issue.

Experts have long known that certain tick species in Alaska feed on the blood of red squirrels, snowshoe hairs, and several bird species. Between the years of 2010 and 2016, biologists found five non-native tick species within Alaska, including the lone star tick and the American dog tick. Ticks easily enter the state by traveling on the bodies of people and animals. Now that public health officials know that ticks are present within the state, the next step will be determining the risk that these ticks pose to the human population within Alaska.

Do you think that it is likely that some tick specimens collected in Alaska carry pathogens that are known to cause disease?

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