(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) For those itching for a summer science project, the Missouri Department of Conservation and long time tick researcher have you covered.
“We’re just trying to get citizen scientists to help us fill out the map so we have a better understanding of which ticks occur where,” said Matt Combes, Ecological Health Unit Science Supervisor, Mo. Dept. of Conservation- NE Regional office.
It's time for a tick hunt.
The Missouri Department of Conservation and Deb Hudman, senior research associate at A.T. Still University, are requesting Missourians to mail in ticks they find while exploring the outdoors as a way to figure out which types of ticks are where and what illness they may carry.
“To this point, if you look at a map of the state just at the county level, more than half the counties are empty of information and yet we know ticks occur in all of them,” said Combes.
Researchers want to fill up the state map with information on all things ticks to help inform and protect locals.
To participate in the tick 'quest,' find a tick and put it inside a plastic bag with a damp paper towel or cotton ball. After, place that bag into a larger ziplock bag with the necessary printed form detailing where the tick was found then, send it off. Mail ticks to this address: A.T. Still University; Deb Hudman, Senior Research Associate; Dept. of Microbiology & Immunology; 800 W. Jefferson St. Kirksville, MO 63501.
Health officials said by participating in the tick hunt, you may help discover a new virus like Dr. Scott Folk did.
“For me personally, that was a big moment because how many people get to name a new virus?” said Dr. Scott Folk, Infectious Disease Specialist at Mosaic Life Care in St. Joseph.
In 2009, Dr. Folk with the assistance from the CDC, found out his tick-bitten patients in St. Joseph didn't have a common tick-borne illness, Ehrlichiosis.
“They had fever and chills and low white blood cell counts and so forth and thought this was a slam dunk,” said Dr. Folk.
But the long time infectious disease doctor was wrong. He said his patients weren't getting better with the medication usually prescribed for Ehrlichiosis.
“And so I called the CDC and said, ‘Hey, what’d you find out?’ and they said there was no Ehrlichia and I said, ‘What?’” said Dr. Folk.
Turns out, Dr. Folk discovered a brand new virus. The first human virus in the U.S. in over 19 years. He decided to name it the 'Heartland Virus.' Discoveries like Dr. Folk's is why researchers hope they receive a lot of creepy-crawly mail this summer.
“We hope it actually becomes part of the outreach. People informing themselves enough to submit ticks are informing themselves enough to protect themselves,” said Combes.
For more information on the tick project, click here.