disease

UConn CVMDL Tests Ticks for Disease-Causing Agents

tick testing at UConn
Photo: UConn Communications

Pet owners, livestock owners, and outdoor enthusiasts statewide need to maintain vigilance against ticks because as the fall season approaches will see an increase in their activity. UConn’s Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory (CVMDL), part of the Department of Pathobiology & Veterinary Science in the College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources, is on the frontline of tick testing to inform submitters of the risks associated with that tick. 

Ticks are disease-carrying arachnids that reside in moist areas, such as long grass and the leaf litter, and will latch onto humans and animals alike. Although there are many different species of ticks, people generally think of one tick species in particular when worrying about illness: the deer tick (Ixodes scapularis). While the Deer tick is predominantly known for transmitting the agent that causes Lyme disease (the corkscrew-shaped bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi), it can also carry other disease-causing agents. A single tick can transmit more than one infectious agent.

“Our lab offers tick identification services, in addition to many other services,” says Dr. Joan Smyth, Director of CVMDL. Tick testing at CVMDL serves multiple purposes. It helps the person or veterinarian who submitted the tick understand the potential exposure of the subject that the tick was found on. Our researchers are also using the results from tick testing to track current and emerging disease producing agents carried by ticks, and to monitor for the spread of ticks that may have been recently introduced to our area, for example the long-horned tick. The data can be used in setting priority areas for prevention and vaccine development.

If you find a tick on yourself, your child, or your pet, remove it immediately. CVMDL can test the tick for pathogens. Ticks received at CVMDL are first examined under a microscope by trained technicians to determine the species of tick, life stage, and degree of blood engorgement, all of which are factors that may impact transmission of pathogens to the person or animal. Ticks may then be tested for the DNA of pathogens that are common to that tick species. Results are normally reported within three to five business days of receiving the sample, but next day testing is available for an additional fee.

Please send ticks together with a small square of moist paper towel, in sealed zip lock bags. The submission form, pricing and the “Do’s and don’ts of tick testing” can be found on our website at http://s.uconn.edu/468.

For more information, read the article from UConn Magazinethat includes tips to prevent tick bites, or watch the UConn Science in Seconds video. You can also contact the Connecticut Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory at cvmdl@uconn.edu or 860-486-3738 or visit the tick testing page on our website http://cvmdl.uconn.edu/service/tick.php.