PITTSBURG, Kan. – Pittsburg State University Biology students are working alongside an associate professor this summer to research tick-borne diseases — the leading vector-borne diseases and among the most pressing public health issues in the nation — by surveying Crawford County and Anderson County, Kansas, as part of the state’s annual tick surveillance program.
Associate Professor Anu Ghosh and her students have conducted field and lab research for seven years, but this year is special.
“Our research activities caught the attention of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and we received a contractual research project for this year to carry out surveillance in parks and recreational areas, and to detect pathogen load in this tick population,” Ghosh said.
According to the CDC, ticks can transmit more than a dozen pathogens that can cause human disease, including Lyme Disease, Tularemia, Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, Spotted Fever Rickettsiosis, and Ehrlichiosis.
Since 2009, more than 60 cases of Heartland virus have been reported in Missouri and Kansas, the most recent case contracted in May in Crawford County. Last year, Bourbon virus was contracted in Anderson County, Kansas.
“My team is also surveying the private land in Anderson County where the Bourbon virus was contracted last year. This is really exciting, because we can identify the hotspots where the virus is active within the Lone Star ticks,” Ghosh said.
In 2019, the Pitt State lab received funding from the National Science Foundation for collaborative long-term work with the University of Kansas and Oklahoma State University that includes the identification of bacterial pathogens.
The research involves both field work and “bench work,” or work in the labs on campus.
“The field work has a higher risk of exposure to ticks, and that is why students always need to be supervised in the field, even after they are well-trained,” she said. “However, the bench work is different, where the students perform all kinds of experiments on their own after being trained.”
Both are valuable experiences for students, Ghosh said, as well as to the collective body of scientific knowledge.
“It is critical to mentor students with this kind of research activities and encourage them to pursue a career in Public Health,” she said.
Ghosh credited past students for their contributions, including Sydney Nippoldt, Cassady Utley, Hallee Belgum, Levi Carrico, Abrar Alzahrani, and Leah Cuthill.
Current students conducting research include Brayden Letterman, Ayushee Dasgupta, and Erik Janz.
Community support from landowners and veterinarian clinics, as well as support from staff at Pitt State, have made the research possible.