Tracking Vt. ticks to study Lyme disease - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Tracking Vt. ticks to study Lyme disease

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This is year three of Green Mountain College's tick research project. It's being funded through a $75,000 grant from the Vermont Genetics Network, which is based at the University of Vermont.

"We are trying to understand how the risk of acquiring Lyme disease in nature varies from place to place," said Bill Landesman, a professor at Green Mountain College.

Students, under the direction of Landesman, are collecting ticks in several locations near the Poultney campus, tracking population size. And then they're researching DNA in the ticks' guts looking for the bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease.

"After it starts feeding, the bacteria will multiply and grow in the gut. Once a critical threshold of bacteria is reached, they are able to make their way into the salivary glands and ultimately into the host, which could be a person or another animal," Landesman explained.

And they're trying to determine why certain animals transmit the disease while others may not.

"For example, the white-footed mouse, a forest-dwelling mouse, is much more likely to pass on the pathogen than something like a skunk or even a deer," Landesman said. "Deer are important for boosting the population of tick numbers, but actually not in transmitting the pathogen."

Another goal Landesman says is to understand why the risk of Lyme disease is so different across the state.

"Southern Vermont, for example, has a higher number of reported cases versus the northern part of the state," Landesman said. "We would like to understand why."

And he hopes the work will help raise awareness to prevent people from getting tick bites in the first place.

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