Lyme ticks -CDC (copy)

Deer ticks, also known as black-legged ticks, at various stages of life. The ticks, which can carry Lyme disease, have arrived in Douglas, Sarpy and Saunders Counties.

Just in time for the arrival of a new tick in Nebraska, researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are launching a tick surveillance project that asks for residents’ help in monitoring the insects.

Tick Tag Go is a community-powered effort to establish baseline data on tick distribution in Nebraska, said Louise Lynch-O’Brien, an assistant professor of insect biology.

While studies have been done, she said, there hasn’t been a comprehensive database of what ticks are found — and where — in the state. Last week’s announcement that the deer tick has established a presence for the first time in eastern Nebraska — specifically Douglas, Sarpy and Saunders Counties — reinforced the need for such information. So are the effects climate change is having on the ranges of various species.

“We’re relying on the public to help us get a better idea of what ticks are where,” Lynch-O’Brien said.

The presence of the deer tick, also known as the black-legged tick, means it is possible for people to contract Lyme disease in the state if they’re bitten by infected ticks. Laboratory tests are underway to determine whether ticks collected in the three counties carry the bacteria that cause Lyme or other known tick-borne pathogens.

Lynch-O’Brien said Nebraskans aren’t being asked to go out and look for ticks but instead to submit photos of those they come across in their daily activities. They can submit photos by joining the Tick Tag Go page on iNaturalist, an online biodiversity forum used by citizen science projects as well as researchers and hobbyists.

Once citizens submit photos, researchers will do their best to identify the ticks, she said. Residents also can submit specimens for identification. Instructions for submitting ticks are on the project website, ticktaggo.unl.edu. The researchers also have established a project Facebook page.

“That’s what’s nice about citizen science,” Lynch-O’Brien said. “It allows people to get involved and do something.”

* * *

Ticks found in Nebraska

The deer tick, aka the black-legged tick, adds to the list of ticks that have been found in Nebraska. Here's a list of the ticks that have been found in the state, and where, and the disease-causing bacteria each can carry.

Ticks

  • The American dog tick or wood tick, the most common, is found across Nebraska. It can carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever or tularemia.
  • Rocky Mountain wood tick, found in northwest Nebraska, can carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia.
  • The Lone Star tick, found in southern and central Nebraska, can carry tularemia and southern tick-associated rash illness, or STARI, which causes a rash similar to that of Lyme disease. It also can carry the Alpha-gal allergy, which triggers allergy to red meat.
  • The deer or black-legged tick now has been found in Douglas, Sarpy and Saunders counties. It can carry Lyme disease. 

Symptoms

  • Typical symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, headache, fatigue and a skin rash that forms a bull’s-eye pattern. Lyme disease can be treated with a few weeks of antibiotics. Most people recover completely, although some may be left with joint pain that can be treated with medication. If not treated, the infection can spread and affect joints, hearing and the nervous system.
  • Most people who get sick with Rocky Mountain spotted fever have a fever, headache and rash. It can be deadly if not treated early with the right antibiotic.
  • Tularemia can bring sudden fever, chills, headaches, diarrhea, muscle aches, joint pain, a dry cough or progressive weakness. People also can develop pneumonia with chest pain, cough and difficulty breathing. While the disease can be fatal, it usually is cured with antibiotics.

Sources: Jonathan Larson, entomology educator, University of Nebraska Extension; Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; World-Herald archives.

Julie Anderson is a medical reporter for The World-Herald. She covers health care and health care trends and developments, including hospitals, research and treatments. Follow her on Twitter @JulieAnderson41. Phone: 402-444-1066.