Researchers discover multiple pathogens in blacklegged ticks

Researchers at Bard College, Sarah Lawrence College and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies recently discovered that a single bite from a blacklegged tick could expose people to more than one pathogen.

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, examined thousands of blacklegged ticks from more than 150 sites in Dutchess County, N.Y., including ticks that recently fed on other wildlife.

"We found that ticks are almost twice as likely to be infected with two pathogens-the bacterium that causes Lyme disease and the protozoan that causes babesiosis-than we would have expected," Felicia Keesing, a professor of biology at Bard College, an adjunct scientist at the Cary Institute and co-author of the paper, said. "That means health care providers and the public need to be particularly alert to the possibility of multiple infections coming from the same tick bite."

Approximately 30 percent of the ticks collected were infected with the Lyme disease agent, and one third of those also carried another pathogen.

The rate of triple infection by Lyme disease, babesiosis and anaplasmosis was also approximately two times likelier than expected.

"People in tick-infested parts of the United States such as the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic and Upper Midwest are vulnerable to being exposed to two or three diseases from a single tick bite," Keesing said. "And, of course, that risk increases when they're bitten by more than one tick."