Hofstra University Part of NSF-Funded Consortium to Study Nationwide Spread of Lyme Disease and Its Prevalence in the Northern U.S.
Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY … The National Science Foundation has recently funded Hofstra University and a consortium of five other universities to study why the risk of Lyme disease is much higher in the northern United States than in south. Lyme disease, first identified in Connecticut in the mid 1970s, has become a major public health issue in the northeastern United States.
(Media-Newswire.com) - Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY … The National Science Foundation has recently funded Hofstra University and a consortium of five other universities to study why the risk of Lyme disease is much higher in the northern United States than in south. Lyme disease, first identified in Connecticut in the mid 1970s, has become a major public health issue in the northeastern United States. Associate Professor of Biology Russell Burke is representing the Hofstra on the research team.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread by the bite of blacklegged ticks ( otherwise known as deer ticks ) These ticks are on the move, says Dr. Jean Tsao of Michigan State University, who is leading the four-year, $2.5 million study. As ticks expand into new areas, more people will likely become infected.
Findings from this study will help public health agencies develop better prevention strategies for Lyme disease, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports infects more than 20,000 people in North America each year. Blacklegged ticks occur in both northern and southern states. However, 93 percent of all Lyme disease cases occur in only 10 northern states. Researchers and public health providers are puzzled by the lack of human cases in the South.
Researchers worry that this situation could change with infected ticks moving south. A number of hypotheses have been put forward to explain why the disease agent at this time is rare in southern tick populations. Dr. Burke explains, Two of the prominent theories are that the lizards on which ticks feed in the South are unsuitable hosts for the disease-causing bacteria. We also have evidence that the genetics of the ticks and the bacteria differ in the North and South. These hypotheses, however, need to be tested, and our research team has the complementary expertise required to gather the data and conduct the analyses needed to help resolve this debate.
Researchers plan to study ecological and disease factors affecting the Lyme disease cycle by applying standardized survey methods at 12 sites in states ranging from Georgia to Massachusetts. We have a really intriguing scientific puzzle to solve - many factors change as we move from North to South, and we need to be smart with our study design to unravel these, says Dr. Tsao. Our study also has practical goals - we aim to provide the health community and the public in the various states with some reassurance, or warning, about what their future will hold for spread of Lyme disease. Understanding the reasons why Lyme disease is such a problem in some areas will help us manage the disease better, and lower the risk to human health.
Dr. Burke has been investigating the role of lizards in the transmission of Lyme disease since 2002 as part of his research program on the ecology of native and non-native lizard and their parasites. Some of these lizards live in habitats ranging from natural woodlands to downtown urban areas, and thus could be important to human health issues in both positive and negative ways.
One goal of the project is to train the next generation of scientists specializing in wildlife and human disease issues. For this reason, student involvement is key, and the project includes funding for one or two Hofstra graduate students and several undergraduate students assistants over the life of the study.
The research team consists of: Dr. Lorenza Beati ( Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, GA ) Dr. Russell Burke ( Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY ) Drs. Howard Ginsberg and Roger LeBrun ( University of Rhode Island, Providence, RI ) Dr. Graham Hickling ( University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN ) Dr. Nicholas Ogden ( University of Montreal, Montreal, Quebec ) Dr. Jean Tsao ( Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI )
Hofstra University is a dynamic private institution where students can choose from about 150 undergraduate and more than 160 graduate programs in liberal arts and sciences, business; engineering; communication; education, health and human services; and honors studies, as well as a School of Law. With a student-faculty ratio of 14-to-1, our professors teach small classes averaging 22 students that emphasize interaction, critical thinking and analysis. Hofstra offers a faculty whose highest priority is teaching excellence. The University also provides excellent facilities with state-of-the-art technology, extensive library resources and internship programs that match students’ interests and abilities with appropriate companies and organizations. The Hofstra community is driven, dynamic and energetic, helping students find and focus their strengths to prepare them for a successful future.
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