The most recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that Pennsylvania has a high incidence rate of Lyme disease cases.
Thanks to a $995,000 grant secured by U.S. Representative John Joyce, multiple departments at Juniata College, along with many community partners, will now be able to find ways to combat the public health threat that transmitted diseases by ticks pose to residents and visitors to Huntingdon County. .
Juniata College’s Rural Community Solutions to Combat Tick-Borne Diseases: A One Health Initiative will bring together multiple departments and community partners through research into current and emerging tick-borne pathogens, enabling prevention tick bites and education on early treatment.
Through the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2022, Joyce was able to work to secure funding for this project as well as nine other projects in the 13th Congressional District which included areas such as infrastructure, health, employment, community resources, law enforcement, etc. .
Ten sites will be selected to conduct the research over three years.
Sarah Worley, Professor of Communication and Director of Community Learning, explained how this process would unfold.
“We have already started working on this project,” she said. “With this funding, we were able to hire a full-time Community Health Coordinator, a graduate of Juniata College, who now connects and contacts community responders and experts to help identify places, trails and sites. the most popular. potential hot spots.
“We want to identify people and organizations familiar with trail systems and those who are heavily involved in local natural outdoor opportunities,” Worley added. “These people will be important and essential in helping us through all stages of this project, from the information-gathering phase to targeting and developing messages for audiences to broadcast.”
Worley noted that students from different departments would also have the opportunity to be part of this process.
Jill Keeney, Charles A. Dana Professor of Biology at Juniata College, explained the process of collecting ticks after site selection.
We will use what is called the drag technique,” she said. “We’re going to use a 1 meter by 1 meter square cloth and drag it over a defined size of an area to see what ticks we can collect.”
After collection, they will examine the ticks through a process called fluorescent microscopy, which means they will examine the ticks under a certain type of light to identify what type of ticks they are and to see if they carry any certain types of pathogens.
They will carry out this process in the selected areas more than once during the three-year period.
“Then we will take these ticks, grind them up, and then extract the RNA and DNA from them. We will use a fingerprint to see what pathogens are in the tick and to identify tick-borne pathogens,” said Regina Lamendella, George ’75 and Cynthia ’76 Valko Professor of Science biological.
Kenney said while blacklegged ticks or deer ticks are prevalent in Huntingdon County, other types of ticks can be found and have expanded their range over the past 15 or so years.
“As people move, so do ticks,” she said.
Lamendella said after the lab work, data scientists from the math and computer science departments would then compile the data that could reflect potential tick hotspots in the county.
“This whole project is interdisciplinary in nature with molecular biology, microbiology, environmental biology, mathematics and computer science,” she said. “We can count all these different pathogens and do GIS spatial modeling to find priority hotspots where there may be an increase in pathogens.
Worley said that in addition to identifying community responders in this project, they are also able to use the Community Health Coalition that was developed through the Health Literacy Project with Penn Highlands Huntingdon called ACHIEVE.
“It is an important part of the project to involve and reach out and use the expert knowledge of local community members throughout all phases of this project,” she said. “We will be able to use this existing program to help spread the word to help educate and disseminate information to the public through these established partnerships and relationships.”
Lamendella said this project is just one example of what makes Juniata College so special – the use of multiple departments to solve a problem, both in the university community and in the greater Huntingdon County community. .
“That’s how you solve tough problems like this,” she said. “We are really lucky to have a variety of stakeholders. I tell my students that when it comes to a challenging and challenging research topic like this, a multidisciplinary approach is absolutely necessary.
“Maybe we could use that as a model for the region, for the state, and even for the United States,” Lamendella added.