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Ticking upward: MU researcher studies rise of tick-borne diseases in Midwest

May 13, 2021

When Ram Raghavan heard from a former colleague at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that a 7-year-old girl had died from Rocky Mountain spotted fever as the result of a tick bite, he thought of his own daughter, also 7 years old at the time, and the potentially fatal danger posed to vulnerable populations by tick-borne diseases.

Now a professor at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine and School of Health Professions, Raghavan is an epidemiologist studying how ticks, mosquitos and other arthropods spread disease that impact people, pets and livestock over time in various geographical regions.

In a recent study, the most comprehensive of its kind in the Midwest region of the United States, Raghavan and former graduate student Ali Hroobi collected and identified various species of ticks on the outskirts of Pittsburg, Kansas, twice a month for a 3-year period. They not only found a majority of the ticks to be most active in the humid spring and summer seasons, but their comprehensive documentation of what, when and where ticks are present help public health officials better understand the threat of tick-borne diseases to humans, companion animals and livestock.

“We have seen increases recently in both the number and severity of tick-borne diseases in the Midwest, particularly in the humid climates of Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas,” Raghavan said. “Since more people get infected by tick-borne diseases each year than any other vector-borne disease, it is important that we better understand what type of ticks are present in our region, where they are located and what time of year they are most prevalent. This information will help keep us, our families, pets and livestock safe.”

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Ram Raghavan portrait

Ram Raghavan

Associate Professor