UK graduate researchers track ticks to learn more about tick-borne illness

Anna Pasternak collects ticks from around the state to study what pathogens they carry....
Anna Pasternak collects ticks from around the state to study what pathogens they carry. Courtesy: Anna Pasternak(WKYT)
Published: May. 26, 2020 at 3:02 PM EDT
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Most of us try to avoid ticks at all costs, but University of Kentucky graduate research assistant Anna Pasternak is seeking them out.

"It's the Kentucky Tick Surveillance Program and it started up last January, so in 2019. I had come in as a new graduate student and I was interested in the public health relationship with entomology," Pasternak said. "So this was perfect because ticks are a huge vector of diseases and they've never been studied extensively in Kentucky."

Pasternak collects ticks county by county and gets ticks sent to her by veterinarians and county extension agents all across the state.

"We test right now for three pathogens," Pasternak said. "One is for the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease, and we have found that in ticks here in Kentucky."

They also test for the types of bacteria that cause Rocky Mountain Spotted fever and Ehrlichiosis.

"We are able to understand what species of tick are here and what kind of pathogens they are carrying so that we can know what diseases they are at risk for when they go outside, when they go riding their horses or walking their dogs in the woods," Pasternak said.

It's helpful to understand what our animals are at risk for, too.

"A lot of these diseases can impact veterinarian health- so horses which are huge here in Kentucky," Pasternak said.

The hope is that by understanding better where these tick-borne illnesses reside, vets and doctors can diagnose and treat people with more ease.