UpTICKS in infectious disease…

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Tick-borne diseases that impact animals and humans are emerging globally- by leaps and bounds. We need effective ways to monitor for this, aka surveillance systems, so that communities (the public, pet owners, public and animal health groups) can anticipate and respond to these disease threats.

There are a number of ways to perform surveillance for tick-borne disease. A recent publication took on the tall task of reviewing these various approaches. They did so by utilizing one obvious Canadian example of a tick-borne disease with human and canine impact, i.e. Lyme disease.

Current surveillance approaches in the context of Lyme disease include:

1.    Passive surveillance = Human disease reports or ticks submitted that have been found on (or removed from) people and pets, i.e. all samples collected by members of the public or health care providers. The main pro of this system is budgetary, i.e. low cost and less time involved. The main con is this approach is impacted by population density and is dependent on communication between groups.

2.    Active surveillance = Work is done to collect ticks in specific regions (for instance, using cloth that is dragged through a grassy area and then ticks on the cloth are counted). The main pro of this is provision of detailed information on a set area, while the main con is expense and the time involved in doing this work.

3.    Other surveillance methods are nicely summarized in the study’s table , and include research such as, evaluating canine blood samples for evidence of exposure to ticks carrying Borrelia burgdorferi (the cause of Lyme disease), collaborating with clinics (medical or veterinary) to act as sentinels and provide reports of Lyme disease and tick bites, etc.

Studies that look at a number of studies together (i.e. reviews) require a LOT of work. Studies that look at other studies, critically evaluate these within specific contexts, and THEN propose change require even more effort…sometimes on the scale of the miraculous.

It’s exciting to see publications that conclude that overhaul of existing systems and collaboration is what’s needed to provide timely, practical data that can be used to do what we all want…help prevent infectious disease in animals (4 legged and 2).

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Steps forward of this type will require work and communication and it’ll be interesting to witness the impact and outcome of this research. However, I’ll be savoring the straight-up awesome of reading a paper on infectious disease that uses words like ‘inclusive, comprehensive, standardized, sustainable’ and the phrase ‘we do not believe it is un-achievable’ for the rest of my summer. These aren’t terms typically placed in papers and we need more of this variety in order to ‘tick the boxes’ for surveillance, disease awareness and prevention success for Lyme disease- and other infectious concerns in Canada and worldwide.