UNT Health Science Center Researching Texas Tick Bites

As if mosquitoes weren’t a big enough worry in North Texas, they’re not the only critters that can cause harm to you when out and about this summer.

Researchers at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth are working to learn more about what ticks may be carrying, where they're at and how it can impact those bitten.

Deep within one of the buildings at UNTHSC, in a secured laboratory, researchers are working to understand the smallest of threats to human health.

"It's very hardy and very aggressive toward people and seems to be spreading its range across the United States," said UNTHSC associate professor Dr. Michael Allen.

Summer heat means more ticks in Texas, but UNTHSC researchers are hoping to learn more about ticks and what they’re carrying.

Allen is talking about the Lone Star tick, named for the shape on its back — not the state. The arachnid does call Texas home and it's in greater numbers during the warmer summer months.

The mission inside Allen's lab is a simple one.

"We try to get an idea of what ticks are carrying, what particular pathogens," he said.

Ticks in Texas can leave humans with forms of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, which can be fatal, and to a lesser extent Lyme disease. Lyme disease is more common in the northeastern part of the country than in Texas.

"Lyme disease will often have the characteristic bullseye looking rash with a red spot and a red circle around it, that grows increasingly larger," Allen said.

Each year around 300,000 people are diagnosed with Lyme disease across the country, which makes the research work so vital to public health.

"From a human health standpoint, a public health standpoint, (we) follow what diseases may be on the increase, as well as assist physician's in potential diagnosis of tick-borne illness," he said.

The research is part of a collaboration with the Department of State Health Services. If you’re a Texas resident and get bit by and recover a tick, you can send it for free to DSHS who’ll then send it to the Health Science Center team who will determine what, if any, bacteria it may contain.

"They’re (the ticks) several tens of thousands of times larger than the bacteria that we’re worried about inside of them," he said.

It's a tiny pest that could carry large health problems which is why these scientists hope Texas residents help them learn more about them and what's inside of them.

Like mosquitoes, the best way to prevent a tick bite is by using bug spray with DEET.

How to Protect Yourself From Mosquito Bites
  • Dress in long sleeves, pants when outside: For extra protection, spray thin clothing with repellent.
  • DEET: Make sure this ingredient is in your insect repellent.
  • Drain standing water in your yard and neighborhood: Mosquitoes can develop in any water stagnant for more than three days.

It has been recommended in the past that to avoid mosquito bites you should avoid being outdoors during Dusk and Dawn (the 4 Ds). While this is true for mosquitoes that commonly carry the West Nile virus, other types of mosquitoes that are more likely to carry Zika, dengue and chikungunya are active during the day. When outdoors, no matter what time of day, adjust your dress accordingly and wear insect repellent containing DEET, picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus as your first line of defense against insect bites.

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