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Anybody who has lived in the midwest can tell you that ticks are certainly abundant. Tick-borne diseases, on the other hand, are not as abundant in the midwest as one would think. As far as midwesterners are concerned, tick bites are just minor nuisances, but proper disposal of ticks is a very important matter of safety to most residents of the midwest. Some experts think that this will all change, and the midwest will become a hotspot for tick-borne diseases. There are a few different factors that may contribute to this change. For example, some ticks that were once dismissed as harmless have now been found to be full of pathogens. Climate change is another factor that may alter the distribution of particular ticks around the United States. Some ticks that have never been found in the midwest may start appearing and causing illnesses in the near future.

Back in 2009, an unknown tick virus was first reported in the midwestern state of Missouri. The virus had been commonly referred to as the “heartland virus.” The man who had become infected sadly died. Since then, there have been twenty more confirmed cases of the heartland virus. To give you some perspective, lyme disease was not even discovered until 1975, but now there are more than twenty seven thousand cases of lyme disease reported each year. In other words, if a tick-borne virus seems rare, it may not be rare for long.

Lyme disease is no longer the only tick-borne illness to fear, as cases of the Powassan Virus have been increasing, especially in the midwest. Doctors from New York to Michigan are concerned about Powassan carrying ticks, and their negative effects on public health. Some experts believe that this sort of thinking may be erroneous, as tick-borne diseases may not be increasing. According to Brian Allen, an investigator and assistant professor of entomology at the University of Illinois, medical science may be identifying viruses more accurately than ever before. Therefore, tick-borne viruses may have been with us for a while. These viruses could be infecting populations at the same frequency as they always have. That being said, Dr. Allen also believes that an increase in tick-borne diseases should be considered as well. For example, the Lone Star tick in Missouri was not even considered dangerous until the 1990s. Now the Lone Star Tick has infected two farmers in Missouri with the heartland virus, and this tick also causes a meat allergy in its hosts. This meat allergy is peculiar to medical experts. So what is it that is making ticks more dangerous? Are ticks changing? Well, the increase in temperatures caused by global warming may have allowed for ticks to travel to new environments where they could acquire different sorts of bacteria. Not much is known about how ticks adapt to new environments. At the moment, experts are not sure if ticks will become the most dangerous disease spreading animals since the plague, but it is possible.

Do you think that ticks can adapt to new environments rapidly? If they can, then could their adaptations possibly make them more deadly? Do you believe that keeping ticks in their normal habitats is important for preventing illness?

 

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