BU researchers to survey ticks and mosquitoes for invasive pathogens

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What’s in that bite? Researchers at Brandon University are sinking their teeth into research on mosquitoes and ticks thanks to nearly a quarter-million dollars in federal funding over a three-year period.

Drs. Bernadette Ardelli and Bryan Cassone have begun conducting a survey of mosquitoes and ticks across the Canadian Prairies, with an eye towards spotting pathogens in these disease vectors — possibly for the first time.

“We just don’t know everything that might be out there,” said Dr. Ardelli, who is Dean of Science at BU. “It is critical that we open our eyes to existing or future risk — some of what we are screening for can be pretty scary. We believe many of these pathogens are already present in Manitoba, and that human cases may have gone unreported or are misdiagnosed.”

The province already screens for pathogens that are known to cause disease in Manitoba — for example those that cause Lyme disease or West Nile encephalitis. However, this study will look for other infectious pathogens transmitted by mosquitoes or ticks that have yet to be reported here.

“In Manitoba there is no active surveillance for several human pathogens capable of being transmitted by our local mosquitoes and ticks. Many of these are serious public health concerns and found in bordering states and provinces,” said Dr. Cassone. Those include Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia and the California serogroup and Cache Valley viruses.

“Climate change is already increasing the range of infectious diseases, and we must begin preparing for diseases that we haven’t traditionally experienced here,” he added.

“Prevention is our first line of defense, but it requires timely detection. This research will begin to show us where we should focus our efforts.”

The $240,450 in funding comes from the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Infectious Disease and Climate Change Fund.

While the research will benefit everyone, it will be especially helpful for those who are immunocompromised (chemotherapy patients, for example) or those who live in areas where the pathogens are detected.

As the research gets underway, informational events are also planned, to help share knowledge about the risk of infectious diseases as well as recommended disease prevention strategies.


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