Disease-Bearing Ticks Are Spreading, But Mountain West Still Relatively Safe

A new study out of Colorado State University shows that disease-bearing ticks are more widespread than previously thought, but the Mountain West is still relatively safe.

The study analyzed more than 16,000 ticks, most of them mailed in by "citizen scientists" from across 49 states and Puerto Rico. Disease-bearing tick species were discovered in scores of counties where they hadn’t been found before.

“One of the reasons it’s important to keep doing this kind of study is that the distribution of ticks and the pathogens they transmit is changing really quickly,” said Greg Ebel, who specializes in tick-borne and infectious diseases at Colorado State University and wasn’t involved in the study.

Ebel says parts of the U.S. are becoming more tick-friendly. That’s partly due to our changing climate, and to how human migration has changed the landscape. Some areas are worse off than others.

“The bright side for those of us living in the Mountain West,” Ebel said, “is that we’re not really in a hotbed of tick-borne infections.”  But that could change as more people move to our region and as urban development continues. 

“I would say stay tuned,” Ebel said. “The jury is still out on whether there will be changes in the ecology and epidemiology of tick-borne infections here and how that might look.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.