URBANA — If you work outdoors at least a few days a week, you can help University of Illinois researchers learn more about ticks in the state and the diseases they spread.
Anyone signing up for the I-TICK program will be supplied a collection kit, which includes an informational form and a vial in which to place any ticks found on the body to send to the research team.
"What we're doing is mobilizing people around the state who are outside on a regular basis and come in contact with ticks to tell us what they observed and send us the ticks that are on them," said Marilyn O'Hara Ruiz, a UI pathobiology professor who helped develop the I-TICK program.
Through the collection program, she said, researchers hope to learn more about what kinds of ticks people are finding on themselves, what times of year are most risky for exposure in different areas of the state and what diseases these ticks are carrying.
Along with collecting any ticks they find on themselves, participants will be asked to record some data for five days within a two-week period.
There are at least 15 species of ticks in Illinois, but people are likely to encounter only a handful of them, among them the American dog tick, the deer tick and the lone star tick, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Ruiz said the American dog tick is the one most commonly found in this region, "but we're starting to see more deer ticks, and we're starting to see the lone star tick."
The American dog tick is a potential transmitter of such diseases as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia, and the deer tick is best known as a potential carrier of Lyme disease.
The lone star tick can also transmit Rocky Mountain spotted fever, but it's not as likely to pass that disease on to people as American dog ticks are, according to the state public health department. The lone star tick can also transmit tularemia. And all three types of tick are also all potential transmitters of the bacterial illness ehrlichiosis to people.
Illinois has seen a tenfold increase in the number of reported cases of tick-borne illnesses since 1990, according to the UI.
Researchers with the I-TICK program hope to receive 1,000 tick-collection kits this year. They've established 18 "hub" sites around the state to distribute kits to participants and return completed kits to the UI.
Ideal participants are those who work outdoors on a regular basis, such as park employees, Master Gardeners, naturalists and mosquito-abatement workers.
Anyone in this area interested in participating can contact UI pathobiolotgy graduate student Lee Ann Lyons at firstname.lastname@example.org about how to get a collection kit. Organizations willing host hub sites for the program, especially in west-central Illinois, are also encouraged to send Lyons an email.