Wildlife Lab Gets $500,000 Grant for Tick Research

Photo Courtesy / Elizabeth Richardson President Marcia Welsh (left), Nicole Chinnici, director of Wildlife DNA Lab (middle) and Rep. Rosemary Brown (right)

Jazmin Cole 

Staff Writer

ESU’s Northeast Wildlife DNA Lab received a check for $500,000 for the research and surveillance of ticks from Representative Rosemary Brown on Oct. 23, 2018.

The Northeast Wildlife DNA Lab studies tick-borne diseases and tests the vector of ticks and their host species like deer, elk, bears, etc. to see what their exposure rate is to understand what goes on in the environment when associated with tick-borne diseases.

“We have been pushing for this to go through, but we were never sure it was going to go through and thankfully, with the efforts of some of the local representatives like Rep. Rosemary Brown,” said Nicole Chinnici, director of the Northeast Wildlife DNA Lab.

“She was able to get it pushed even further so we could get the funding for this year.”

Ultimately the money will be used to relieve Pa. residents of the tick testing cost.

According to Chinnici, the $500,000 is expected to be used in two-fold approach: one is to generate tick surveillance state-wide, so Pa. residents can test ticks that have bitten them for free.

“It’s been a long time coming [for the check] and Pennsylvania is number one for tick-borne diseases, specifically Lyme disease because it is one of the only reportable tick-borne diseases in the United States,” Chinnici said.

Usually, the cost of the test starts at $50 to test ticks for Lyme disease and goes up to about $175 to test for other diseases.

“[Rep. Brown] really liked everything we were doing but saw people come in and get the testing but not be able to pay for it,” Chinnici said.

Many cases of tick-borne diseases go undetected because people do not realize they get bitten by ticks which makes the recently received check much more significant for research.

In Pa. there are about 112,000 human diagnosed cases for Lyme disease, according to Chinnici. However, there are still a large number of cases of tick-borne diseases that go undiagnosed. The Northeast Wildlife DNA Lab tests for about 17 diseases now.

“When we get ticks for testing, we find that about 90 percent of them test positive for diseases and around 50 percent of that is Lyme disease,” Chinnici said.

She continued stating that the money will fund the development of a large website that will “have all the data analytics to all the infection rates from tick species, where they are found and hotspots for ticks, infections and different exposures from different age groups even coinfected people who are infected with more than one disease.”

This is the only tick-testing lab in Pa. with the only other facility in the northeast being at the University of Massachusetts.

There is a private lab out in the west and a facility in Connecticut that only offers services to Connecticut residents whereas ESU’s lab can test out of state ticks.

However, out-of-state customers, like New Jersey do have to pay the cost of the services that range between $50 and $175 depending on what they want to be tested for.

The tick has to be mailed in a ziplock sandwich bag and a submission form is filled out online.

Some of the questions on the form are “Where you picked the tick up?” “Where it is attached to your body?” “When you think you picked it up?” among other questions Chinnici said.

“You will get and order number, mail the tick and you should receive your results in two days.”

Although most people will want the tick removed and off as soon as possible, it is essential that the tick is removed carefully and properly.

Chinnici advises to remove the tick with fine-tipped tweezers and grab the tick at the mouth where it is attached to you and pull straight up and out to avoid irritating it because the tick will eventually let go on its own.

Using old tricks like lighting a match and burning the tick might cause the tick to throw up into your body pushing the disease into you faster.

According to Chinnici, many people believe that getting ticks mostly comes from walking in the woods or hiking and even from pets. However, Chinnici said that most ticks come from a person’s backyard.

Students, undergraduate, and graduate science majors are involved in the research and work in the lab for internships, however, Chinnici stressed that they are also looking for non-science majors to help out as well.

Students that are public relations and English majors or students who are just interested in social media, scientific writing and customer service are encouraged to contact the lab located in the Innovation Center.

The Wildlife DNA Lab wants people to know that they are here to help so people can know where to go to get their free testing and diagnosis done.

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