Amid an increase in tick-borne illnesses this year, Missouri health officials have launched a study to trap and test ticks for diseases.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services is working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study ticks at Meramec State Park. The research, which began in June, aims to understand how ticks spread rare diseases, such as the Bourbon and Heartland viruses. Last month, a Missouri resident tested positive for the Bourbon virus.
Because only four cases have been documented in the United States, very little is known about what causes the virus, but it has proven to be deadly.
Department of Health and Human Services officials say there have been significant increases in many tick-borne diseases this year. The two most common in Missouri are Rocky Mountain spotted fever, spread by the American dog tick, and ehrlichiosis, a bacterial illness spread by the Lone Star tick. Cases of Rocky Mountain spotted fever and similar fevers have risen by 90 percent over the last five years in Missouri. Instances of ehrlichiosis, which causes flu-like symptoms, have shot up by 18 percent within the same five-year period.
To avoid being infected by a tick, health officials recommend using insect repellant, wearing long sleeves and light-colored clothing and staying out of areas covered in tall grasses.
Follow Eli on Twitter: @storiesbyeli