PITTSBURG — Bothersome bugs such as mosquitoes and ticks are to be expected this time of year, but besides being simply annoying these pests can also spread serious illnesses.
More research needs to be done, however, to understand the specific dangers they pose in our area. While county officials have been busy working to spread awareness of these issues, a team at Pittsburg State University has been in the field collecting new data.
Anuradha Ghosh, a PSU assistant professor and environmental health scientist whose research interests also include the mosquito-borne West Nile virus, has recently been working with one of her graduate students to gather more information on ticks in Southeast Kansas.
While most people do what they can to avoid ticks — which can spread many potentially serious illnesses including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and ehrlichiosis — Ghosh and student Leah Cuthill are doing the opposite — seeking out and collecting ticks as part of a four-year research study to gather new information on the prevalence of ticks and tick-borne illnesses. Cuthill was motivated to work on the project by her own experience contracting a potentially tick-borne illness, resulting in an allergy to red meat. Other PSU faculty, students, and community members have also been assisting Ghosh and Cuthill.
“Southeast Kansas is a hub for ticks because of the heat and high humidity,” Ghosh said, according to a recent university news release. “As our climate warms, ticks are prevailing in this direction following the migration of their hosts — they’re very sensitive to temperatures and humidity. We’re studying the distribution of various tick species and whether it’s going up or down. We’re watching for an invasion, as well.”
After collecting ticks from various locations in Southeast Kansas and the surrounding area, Ghosh and Cuthill freeze them in the PSU Biology Department’s lab. They can then identify the tick species and what pathogens they carry.
A grant will soon enable Ghosh and Cuthill to expand their project in collaboration with other universities. These include Kansas State University, the University of Kansas (KU), the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, and the University of Colorado.
Work has also been underway recently to attempt to better understand the scope of the mosquito problem in the area.
At the beginning of last month, researchers from KU and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment started conducting two weeks of mosquito surveillance studies in 67 Kansas counties that have been affected by severe wet weather this year.
Early results did not show particularly high numbers of Culex species mosquitoes — those that most commonly transmit West Nile virus — in Crawford County compared to other areas of the state. In the second week of mosquito surveillance, however, the county saw higher amounts of the mosquitoes. This, along with similar results in other counties in the region, prompted KDHE to change Southeast Kansas’s rating from a “moderate” to a “high” risk of West Nile virus by the end of July.