Indiana University's Keith Clay has recently made a startling discovery: Lyme disease has entered southern Indiana, along with signs that new tick species are making their way in to the area, too.
Why is this significant? Because Clay had studied southern Indiana for more than 15 years and had not seen Lyme disease. And he would know: As a Distinguished Professor in the IU Bloomington Department of Biology, he's received support for his research totaling $2.7 million in grants from the Evolution of Infectious Diseases Program, as well as others. So we can definitely consider him an expert on the subject.
Until now, he had found very few pathogens in southern Indiana, especially compared to states like Wisconsin and Minnesota. Why the sudden change?
“There are several theories for why this is happening," Clay said, “but the big one is climate change." Still, the exact cause of the shifting borders is not fully understood. Shifting animal populations help define tick's boundaries, since they are a big means of transportation for the parasites. So if a deer population migrates, that means ticks migrate, too.
What does this mean for people? Clay says we need a better way to diagnose tick-borne disease in people, because the ones doctors are using now are not up to snuff. He says the medical field isn't as prepared to handle tick-borne diseases as it needs to be. At the same time, he was quick to point out that the standard antibiotic treatment for tick bites will treat most tick-borne bacterial diseases if caught early enough—even if the exact diagnosis is not yet known.
When conducting research in the field, Clay and his associates take every precaution to protect themselves: knee-high rubber boots, tucked-in pants and insecticidal sprays. And for people with pets, they advise those who walk their dogs in the woods to try to keep them away from brushy areas, adding that both dogs and cats should be treated for ticks.
"Fortunately, it takes a while for ticks to transmit pathogens," said Evelyn Rynkiewicz, a former student of Clay's. "If you get them off right away, your chances of picking something up are very low."
All of this means that our takeaway should be to:
- Dress appropriately in areas that might harbor ticks
- Treat pets for ticks—consult your vet for the best course of action
- Keep Earth's Balance Tick Releaser Spray and Mail-in Test Kit on hand. That way, you have an immediate means of removing any tick you might discover, whether it's on yourself or on your pet.