Uncovering the tiny ecological worlds that exist inside every tick will enable researchers Keith Clay, Curt Lively, Michael Wade and Clay Fuqua (IUB) and Robert Pinger (Ball State University) to learn more about the epidemiology of tick-borne diseases. The scientists also hope to learn how non-pathogenic microbes elbow out pathogenic ones, thereby decreasing the spread of disease to humans and other animals.
By themselves, ticks are mainly harmless, but some of the microorganisms ticks carry can cause illness, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, human monocytic ehrlichiosis and Southern tick-associated rash illness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 15,000 cases of Lyme disease alone are reported in the United States every year. Hoosiers, however, escape relatively easily. The Indiana State Department of Health reported only 32 total incidences of Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and tularemia combined in 2000, the most recent year for which data is available.