Tick Check For Bears

Ticks collected for study during the one-day middle Georgia bear season.

Rosmarie Kelly | December 31, 2021

Editor’s Note: Rosmarie Kelly, PhD MPH is a Public Health Entomologist on the Vector-Borne & Zoonotic Diseases Team working for the Georgia Department of Public Health. Kelly was at the Oaky Woods WMA check station collecting tick data from harvested bears during the one-day middle Georgia bear season on Dec. 18.

The Department of Public Health does tick surveillance in order to monitor changes in the distribution and abundance of ticks so that outreach can be done to help reduce tickborne disease transmission. The ability of the DPH to do surveillance for ticks has been mostly lacking in Georgia, even where tickborne diseases have been reported. Because of this, the DPH has collaborated with the DNR to collect ticks off deer brought into check stations for collection of biological data and tagging during hunts on WMAs.

The major tickborne diseases in the southeastern U.S. include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, STARI, ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis. In addition to tickborne diseases, a toxin can be transmitted through the saliva of a tick bite that causes progressive paralysis, a condition known as “tick paralysis.” Tick feeding also may result in mild to severe allergic reactions in some individuals.

In talking to the hunters, it became obvious that of most concern was developing an allergy to red meat due to a tick bite. It has been found that a possible reaction to the bite from the lone star tick is that it can cause people to develop an allergy to red meat, including venison. This tick is found predominantly in the Southeast, from Texas to Iowa and into New England. This specific allergy is related to a carbohydrate called alpha-gal. Although allergic reactions to foods typically occur immediately, in the instance of allergic reactions to alpha-gal, symptoms often take several hours to develop. 

This year we had the opportunity to go to Oaky Woods WMA during the one-day bear hunt to check for ticks on bears brought in to the check station. A paper published this year indicated that black bears may play an important role in spreading deer ticks, which certainly could have an implication in Lyme disease transmission.

We are looking forward to continuing this collaboration with DNR.  The hunters have proven to be a great source of information and interesting stories. It is always interesting to speak to the wildlife technicians and biologists about the various animals found in the WMAs. We try to do some outreach and education about ticks and tickborne diseases, but I think we probably have learned at least as much while talking with the hunters.

PhD Rosmarie Kelley said she learns a lot when talking to hunters.

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