This summer, Emily Davidson '18, Rita Esposito '18, Julia-Leep-Lazar '18, Thomas Yanushefski '18 and Bess Fleischman '19 have been searching the Lehigh Valley for ticks in order to gain a better understanding of them and the dangerous bacteria they carry.
The team, led by , professor of , heads out to the woods and drags squares of white corduroy for immature ticks to climb aboard in search of a meal (the technique mimics the actions of white mice, a favorite target of the ticks). The research team has already collected over 800 of the tiny blood suckers. Back in the lab, they extract DNA from the ticks to see which ones carry the bacteria that cause Lyme disease. Their results? Roughly 23% of the ticks collected have been infected. While the number itself may be alarming, the findings highlight the need to pay attention to local tick bites.
Emily Davidson, a biology major and minor as well as an athlete on Muhlenberg's track & field and cross country teams, believes the findings will have a great effect on preventing Lyme disease in the Lehigh Valley. She would like to be a doctor and is motivated by her passion to help people.
“I think the biggest goal is increasing awareness,” said Emily. “I don't think people know that the rate of infected ticks is as high as it is. Just knowing the simple steps you can take--like wearing long pants and socks when you go into wooded areas, spraying yourself with DEET and checking yourself for ticks after spending time outdoors--can make a huge difference.”
In order to share this information with the public, the researchers have teamed up with Lehigh Valley Health Network to post signs at some popular hiking trail heads (in both Spanish and English) to enhance tick knowledge.
“The signs are going to be very important to increase awareness,” said Dr. Edwards. “The prevalence of the bacteria in the ticks is certainly high enough to justify putting the signs up.”
A number of generous donors have contributed to this ongoing project, including summer research stipends from the Vaughn family, the Trainor family, the Crist family and Lehigh Valley Health Network.
Full days of field work combined with lab work have generated a data set that can be worked into a peer-reviewed publication.
“Finishing the lab work over the summer has been very helpful, because now we can focus on our analysis,” said Emily. She believes that their work can give the community a greater understanding of ticks and helpful preventative behavior, and she hopes that this will lead to fewer cases of Lyme disease in the Lehigh Valley.