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Katko pushing for federal funding to track ticks and tick-borne diseases

Ellen Abbott
Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) speaks at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse Monday

Central New York Rep. John Katko (R-Camillus) is hoping some federal funding can boost tick identifying programs across the country. Katko is expected to reintroduce the Tick Identification Pilot Program Act in Congress this week. It would create a pilot program through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, allowing individuals to send pictures of ticks to experts.

“Take out your phone, you get a tick bite, you take a picture of what you think is a tick bite, send it to these doctors, and they’ll tell you if you should be concerned and what to do about it,” Katko said in Syracuse Monday. “It also allows them to track, get more information.”

Individuals can also send pictures of ticks to scientists, who could track their progression.

“The more you can track and zero in where the hotspots are, the more you can attack them and have best practices and the more he can unlock genetics through DNA analysis,” Katko said. “So the more information the better here, that’s the name of the game.”

Dr. Saravanan Thangamani already runs a Citizen Science Tick Testing Program out of Upstate Medical University in Syracuse. He said federal funds would boost his program, which identifies ticks that carry disease, from those sent into the lab from citizens across New York state.

"The moment you get money from the federal government you can add more staff,” said Thangamani. “Right now our turnaround is five days. But if you have more money we can add more staff, which means we can send results in two or three days, so we can increase our efficiency."

Funding would also ramp up tick bite awareness. Dr. Brian Leydet is a tick and tick-borne disease researcher at SUNY ESF. He said much of the public still doesn’t take many precautions against tick bites. And until wearing insect repellant, or tucking pants into socks for walks in the woods becomes habit, people will continue to be infected with tick-borne ailments like Lyme Disease or anaplasmosis.

“When we changed laws to wear seat belts, that was a big shift, it was a behavior change shift,” said Leydet. “And understanding the seriousness and getting people to change innate behavior is what we want to do, and something like this will get data in hand, to push that information to the public.”

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.