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Lyme Disease and Vector-Borne Pathogen Studies

Principal Investigator: Howard Ginsberg

Dr. Howard Ginsberg is studying the transmission of Lyme disease spirochetes in nature using ecological studies of ticks and their vertebrate hosts, and models of spirochete transmission dynamics.  Environmental factors that influence tick populations apparently operate on a regional scale.  Distribution of vertebrate hosts plays a role in tick distribution, but local factors that determine habitat distribution vary from year to year.  Recent studies suggest that the conventional wisdom that white-footed mice serve as the reservoir of Lyme disease spirochetes in the northeast is too simplistic because other common mammals (e.g., meadow voles) and some birds (e.g. robins and song sparrows) are also competent reservoirs.

Spirochetes from ticks cause lyme disease

Ginsberg, H.S. & E. Zhioua.  1996.  Nymphal survival and habitat distribution of Ixodes scapularis and Amblyomma americanum ticks (Acari: Ixodidae) on Fire Island, New York, USA.  Experimental and Applied Acarology 20:533-544.

Ginsberg, H.S., K. E. Hyland, R. Hu, T.J. Daniels, & R.C. Falco.  1998.  Tick population trends and forest type.  Science 281:349-350.

Markowski, D., H.S. Ginsberg, K.E. Hyland, & R. Hu.  1998.  Reservoir competence of the meadow vole (Rodentia: Cricetidae) for the Lyme disease spirochete,  Borrelia burgdorferi.  Journal of Medical Entomology 35:804-808.

Ginsberg, H.S. & E. Zhioua.  1999.  Influence of deer abundance on the abundance of questing adult Ixodes scapularis (Acari: Ixodidae).  Journal of Medical Entomology 36:376-381.

Ginsberg, H.S., E. Zhioua, S. Mitra, J. Fischer, P.A. Buckley, F. Verret, H.B. Underwood, & F.G. Buckley.  2004.  Woodland type and spatial distribution of nymphal Ixodes scapularis (Acari: Ixodidae).  Environmental Entomology 33:1266-1273.

Ginsberg, H.S., P.A. Buckley, M.G. Balmforth, E. Zhioua, S. Mitra, and F.G. Buckley. 2005.  Reservoir competence of native North American birds for the Lyme disease spirochete, Borrelia burgdorferiJournal of Medical Entomology 42:445-449.

Effective management of Lyme disease requires appropriately-scaled surveillance, and efficient Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs to manage disease risk.  Dr. Ginsberg is using transmission models to develop strategies for efficient integration of management methods for vector-borne diseases.  This approach will allow better-targeted management, which will minimize the need for broad-scale environmentally damaging interventions while effectively lowering the number of human cases of disease.

Ginsberg, H.S.  1993.  Transmission risk of Lyme disease and implications for tick management.  American Journal of Epidemiology 138:65-73.

Ginsberg, H.S.  1994.  Lyme disease and conservation.  Conservation Biology 8:343-353.

Ginsberg, H.S.  2001.  Integrated pest management and allocation of control efforts for vector-borne diseases.  Journal of Vector Ecology 26:32-38.

Johnson, J.L., H.S. Ginsberg, E. Zhioua, U.G. Whitworth, D. Markowski, K.E. Hyland, & R. Hu.  2004.  Passive tick surveillance, dog seropositivity, and incidence of human Lyme disease.  Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases 4:137-142.

Connally, N.P., H.S. Ginsberg, & T.N. Mather.  2006.  Assessing entomologic peridomestic factors as predictors for Lyme disease.  Journal of Vector Ecology 31:364-370.

Ginsberg, H.S.  Integrating control measures for efficient management of vector-borne diseases.  manuscript.

Dr. Ginsberg is collaborating with the Centers for Disease Control to study the distribution of zoonotic pathogens in the lone star tick, Amblyomma americanum, an aggressive species that is expanding its range into the northeastern states.

Ginsberg, H.S., C.P. Ewing, A.F. O'Connell, Jr., E.M. Bosler, and M.W. Sayre.  1991. Increased population densities of Amblyomma americanum  (Acari: Ixodidae) on Long Island, New York.  Journal of Parasitology  77:493-495.

Mixson, T.R., H.S. Ginsberg, S.R. Campbell, J.W. Sumner, & C.D. Paddock.  2004. Detection of Ehrlichia chaffeensis in adult and nymphal Amblyomma americanum (Acari: Ixodidae) ticks from Long Island, New York.  Journal of Medical Entomology 41:1104-1110.

Mixson, T.R., S.R. Campbell, J.S. Gill, H.S. Ginsberg, M.V. Reichard, T.L. Schulze, and G.A. Dasch.  2006.  Prevalence of Ehrlichia, Borrelia, and Rickettsial agents in Amblyomma americanum collected from nine states within its range.  Journal of Medical Entomology 43:1261-1268.

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Background information on Lyme Disease

Among all vectors, ticks have the distinction of transmitting the widest diversity of microbes that are harmful to humans. Ticks can harbor and transmit a wide diversity of pathogens simultaneously. Viruses, bacteria, and protozoan parasites are all transmitted by ticks. Most health problems in humans result from pathogens being transmitted to humans from ticks during blood meals. The most commonly reported vector-borne disease in the USA is Lyme disease, which is caused by infection with Borrelia burgdorferi, a bacterial spirochete.

A vector is an insect (e.g., mosquito, sand fly) or other arthropod (e.g., ticks, mites) that actively transmits a pathogen from an infected reservoir host animal to another individual.

Ticks--lyme disease vectors. Photo by Curtis Ewing.

Lyme disease in its early stage is characterized by a flu-like illness lasting for several days to weeks. Lyme disease is easily treatable in the early stages. If left untreated, Lyme disease may affect the joints, heart, and central nervous system. Not all ticks can transmit Lyme disease. Only certain species are competent vectors and not all ticks of those species are infected. Not every person who is bitten will get Lyme disease.

USGS scientists are examining the population ecology of ticks and examining the roles that birds, small mammals, and deer play in the transmission of the disease. From USGS site:


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