Investigators: S. Thangamani, D. Bouyer, L. Blanton, B. Travi, P. Melby, D. Walker, P. Teel, D. Watts, A. Perez de Leon, Waldrup
Ticks transmit a wide array of pathogens including bacteria, spirochetes, rickettsiae, protozoa and viruses. In the U.S., Lyme and other tick-borne diseases, including spotted fever rickettsioses, anaplasmosis, tularemia, and ehrlichioses, have been increasing for years, with tens-of-thousands of human cases annually. The lone star tick, Amblyomma americanum, is the most common tick reported to parasitize humans in the Southeastern and South Central United States. Geographical expansion of A. americanum ticks into new ecological niches has been reported in the past decade. Pathogens transmitted by A. americanum ticks can lead to a variety of diseases, including Heartland virus disease, ehrlichiosies, tularemia, and rickettsiosis.
The recent discovery of Heartland virus with a high fatality rate further highlights the emerging role of A. americanum ticks as a major vector of concern in Texas. However, there is little information on the ecology of A. americanum in the Gulf and RGV regions. Understanding tick ecology and the pathogens transmitted is essential to improve control. This proposed work aims to fill the gaps in our current knowledge on the geographic expansion of A. americanum and other Amblyomma species ticks and the pathogens they transmit. We also propose to develop a sensitive point-of-care (POC) diagnostic test for the tick borne pathogens. This work will be conducted in collaboration with researchers from UTMB, TAMU, UTEP, UTRGV, and USDA.