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A new study presented during the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene Annual Meeting revealed that ticks carrying the bacterium that causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever are more than twice as likely to feed on humans rather than dogs when temperatures rise.
RMSF is a life-threatening illness that causes fevers, rashes, severe headaches, swelling of the eyes and hands, nausea, and vomiting. Though it can be treated with antibiotics, if left untreated, RMSF kills 30% of those infected. RMSF among humans is on the rise— in 2017, there were more than 6,000 cases, a 12-fold increase compared to the 495 cases reported in 2000.
Likewise, cases of Lyme disease in the United States have doubled over the past twenty-years to about 30,000 cases a year. And we’re also seeing ticks that carry Lyme disease spread to northern New England and the midwest, while other ticks that are normally found in the south have spread to New York and New Jersey.
As Joel Breman, the president of ASTMH, in the statement:
“Climate change is moving so quickly that it is critical to keep pace with the many ways it may alter and intensify the risk of a wide range of infectious diseases so we are better prepared to diagnose, treat and prevent them.”
The Experiment: Before this study, there was some initial research that suggested brown dog ticks were more likely to bite humans in warmer weather.
To test this theory, a team of researchers at the UC Davis School for Veterinary Medicine built two large wooden boxes and connected them with a clear plastic tube. One box contained a dog, and the other contained a graduate student — 20 ticks were placed into the plastic tube, and for twenty minutes, the researchers observed which way the ticks chose to crawl. They performed this test in both 74 degree and 100-degree temperatures.
It’s still unclear exactly why hotter temperatures make ticks more likely to bite humans. Study author Lauren Backus, had a theory: “At hotter temperatures, they might be more eager to find a host, because at higher temperatures, they’re more likely to dry out and die faster. And so that might be why they’re going toward the host more aggressively and more quickly for survival.” In any case, those venturing outdoors should heed this warning, especially as numbers of casual hiking have spiked during the COVID pandemic.
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By Amy Lupica, ODP Daily Editor The EPA has announced that it will propose the first-ever limits on the discharge of polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, in wastewater. The class of chemicals, often called “forever chemicals,” can accumulate in the environment and the human body and contribute to health problems. However, public health and environmental […]
By Amy Lupica, ODP Daily Editor The editors of more than 230 medical journals said in a statement on Monday that human health is being harmed by climate change, and that the effects could become catastrophic if governments don’t do more to address it. The unprecedented joint editorial cites climate change’s proven links to “heat […]
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