MANHATTAN, Kan., March 1 (UPI) -- Tick species are on the move all over the country.
New research out of Kansas suggests the lone star tick, a bloodsucker named for the state of Texas, is nearing the Colorado border.
Until recently, researchers believed the lone star stick was isolated to the eastern third of Kansas. But live specimens have been recovered as far west as Colby, just 55 miles from the Kansas-Colorado border.
Ecological models suggest climate change has expanded the amount of habitat in Kansas suitable for the lone star tick.
The lone star tick, Amblyomma americanum, is a vector for a number of diseases, including human monocytic ehrlichiosis and human ewingii ehrlichiosis, tularemia, southern tick-associated rash illness and feline cytauxzoonosis.
Researchers say instances of feline tularemia and cytauxzoonosis have increased in recent years, in line with reports that the tick's range and population is growing.
The findings, detailed in the journal Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases, suggest climate change will continue to enable the spread of tick populations. Researchers say doctors and public health officials can expect to see an increase in tick-borne diseases in humans and pets.
Study co-author Mike Dryden, distinguished professor of veterinary parasitology at Kansas State University, wasn't initially sold on the model's findings.
"At first, Dr. Dryden was skeptical about our findings until he received a tick specimen from a dog that was sent in the mail from a veterinary clinic in Stockton, Kansas," lead author Ram Raghavan said in a press release. "This shows that it's not just a model; somebody had actually picked a tick from a dog that had no history of travel. Our team had also collected ticks on trips to areas around Hays, but it's always nice to get evidence from an independent source."
Raghavan says more research is needed to understand the spread of tick-borne pathogens, but that outdoor-goers should take extra precaution and protect themselves against tick bites.
"Always wear protection to keep ticks away, and inspect pets frequently to make sure they're not carrying any ticks," Raghavan said. "Nothing will stop the spread of the lone star tick because people are not really doing anything to stop climate change. In the meantime, we need to keep studying not only how the ticks are adapting but also understand how the pathogens associated with these ticks are changing and the potential for elevated risk for humans and animals."