Extension Tick Programs
Diseases transmitted by ticks are a significant concern in Rhode Island and throughout the United States. Neither the densely populated urban centers, nor surrounding suburban and rural portions of the region are immune to vector-borne disease. A century-old process of reforestation combined with more recent demographic shifts towards suburban lifestyles have facilitated the emergence of several serious tick-transmitted infections within the region
The current research capacity for responding to tick-borne disease threats in Rhode Island is largely contained within the Department's Center for Vector-Borne Disease. The focus of the current program generally falls into four research and outreach areas: 1) enhancing disease and risk surveillance; 2) improving diagnostic tools and capacity; 3) elucidating vector/microbe and vector/host interactions for the purpose of disease prevention and control; and 4) developing, implementing, and evaluating community-based disease prevention strategies. Faculty contribute to the statewide effort currently organized within the Departments of Environmental Management and Health; as well faculty currently provide critical expertise, testing capacity and facilities, and man-power to the statewide vector-borne disease program, and to Federal programs.
The faculty enjoy international reputations in tick biology, tick-borne disease ecology, and invertebrate pathology. Professors Mather, Ginsberg and LeBrun maintain the largest programs focused on ticks, including aspects of tick biology, ecology, and control. Specific goals are (1) to identify environmental and biological factors that determine the epidemiological pattern of human tick-borne disease; (2) to develop novel vaccination strategies for preventing tick-transmitted infections; (3) to identify compounds derived from ticks that possess potential pharmacological utility; (4) to develop molecular biology-based tick-borne pathogen detection assays; (5) to elucidate transmission dynamics of pathogens among tick vectors and vertebrate hosts; (6) to discover and evaluate natural enemies of ticks (especially entomopathogenic fungi, nematodes and bacteria) as potential biological control agents; (7) to assess ecological effects of tick management techniques and to develop management methods that minimize negative environmental effects; and (8) to develop greater understanding of tick immune mechanisms.
Currently these research objectives are achieved through on and off-campus collaborations, and by a staff of grant-funded post-doctoral fellows, research associates and assistants, and graduate and undergraduate students.
There is a critical national need to build a solid public health infrastructure to protect the health of citizens nationally and locally. We seek to develop a program that contributes to the national effort of developing 'core capacity' that every public health system needs. We will create and seek to sustain a comprehensive vector-borne disease research and training program focused on: developing and validating effective disease surveillance strategies; creating sound integrated pest management systems to suppress vector populations; and on using biotechnology to develop appropriate disease prevention programs.
Relevance to Stakeholders: Human and animal diseases transmitted by arthropods cause immeasurable social and economic losses. Several of the infections transmitted by arthropods in the northeastern U.S. (Table 3) cause significant morbidity and are occasionally fatal. Lyme disease, the most frequently acquired vector-borne disease in the U.S. has caused nearly 177,000 reported cases (and perhaps 1.7 million actual cases) over the past 20 years. Factoring in the costs of diagnosis, treatment and lost wages, a recent study estimated the cost of each acute case of Lyme disease to be $161, while just the economic costs to treat the sequelae of early and late disseminated Lyme disease increases >10 to 100-fold. Social costs, including losses in tourism and recreation, pain and suffering, disability and the like further add to the toll that vector-borne diseases impose. Potential stakeholders of URI's Vector-borne Disease Program then, include those interested in being apprised of and suppressing vector-borne disease risks (citizens, visitors, small business owners, pet owners, health care providers, insurers) as well as public safety and public health authorities, and the pest control and pharmaceutical industries.
Statewide tick surveillance results are disseminated to public health and medical authorities, and to the general public. Faculty are involved in policy issues related to vector-borne disease at the state level. They engage in applied research aimed at evaluating pest management strategies and other public health practices. They support local and regional medical and public health community with information, training, and specialized testing capacity and facilities. They provide technical advice and research support to the U.S. Department of the Interior and serve as the primary source of vector-borne disease guidance for the National Park Service. They interact as consultants to industry, providing knowledge, research materials, and access to specialized research tools and techniques. They provide information concerning vectors and vector management to professional groups and citizens.