The next time you find a tick on yourself, your pet, or in your surroundings, University of Arizona researchers want it.  

In collaboration with the Arizona Department of Health Services and fueled by a nearly $1-million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the university launched the Great Arizona Tick Check last month.

The goal of the project is to create the first-ever database in the state of tick distribution and correlated diseases. In other words, what ticks are where in Arizona and what diseases they could carry.

Researchers with UArizona said the most common tick is the Brown Dog Tick here in the state.

Those ticks’ bites can spread Rocky Mountain spotted fever, which is the deadliest tick-borne disease in the world. It is, however, treatable. According to the CDC, 4,000-6,000 cases of spotted fever, including the Rocky Mountain variety, are reported in the United States annually.

Symptoms can include fever, headache, nausea, muscle, pain, or rash.

As cases of that disease and other tick-borne diseases rise in the Southwest, researchers and public health experts want to learn more information to help keep us safe.

“This is what we call community-based participatory surveillance. Because going and sampling all across the state is impossible, this allows us to get ticks from a much broader area and engage people in science,” said Kacey Ernst, an epidemiologist at the Zuckerman College of Public Health and a partner on the project. “People will be asked to send us ticks if they find them on themselves, pets or their surrounding environment. They will also get educational information about ticks and the diseases they carry.”

Kathleen Walker will lead pathology and genetic testing of ticks received from the public through her role as an extension specialist in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Department of Entomology.

“If you get antibiotics within five to seven days, you’re fine. But [Rocky Mountain spotted fever] has a much greater potential for fatality than Lyme disease,” Walker said. “If you find a tick that has bitten into you or a member of your family, don’t panic. Simply remove it, clean the site, put the tick on a piece of tape or in a small container, and send it to me.”

Walker said the Great Arizona Tick Check will help researchers gather important information on tick distribution and potential disease but is not meant to provide a medical diagnosis.

“People who’ve contributed ticks to the program shouldn’t wait to hear back from our lab before seeking medical attention if they develop fever or rash after a tick bite,” Walker said.

Here is information from UArizona on how to safely remove a tick and how to send it in for sampling as the project goes on for the next several years:

“How to remove a tick

If you find a tick attached to your skin, don’t panic. Simply remove the tick as soon as possible.

Using clean, fine-tipped tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the skins surface as possible. Pull upward with even, steady pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause parts of the tick to remain in the skin.   After removing the tick, clean the site and wash your hands with soap and water or rubbing alcohol.

If you develop fever or rash within 30 days of a tick bite, contact a medical provider. Tell them about the recent tick bite, as well as where and when the bite occurred.

Contribute to the Great Arizona Tick Check

Once the tick is removed, seal it in a zip-seal bag or small container.

Write down the following information on a sheet of paper to send with the tick:

Date collected Location  City, town or ZIP code is sufficient, although you may include the address Host  Human, dog, cat, etc. If the tick was found in the environment (not feeding), you can write “free-living” and mention where you found the tick (inside the home, in the grass, on the side of a building, etc.) Travel history  If the human or other host animal was in a different county or state within the past two weeks, please include that information. Contact information (optional): If you would like to be contacted with the tick identification, please include your name and email address, cell phone or mailing address. The tick will also be tested for disease, but those results may take longer than initial identification.

Place the tick collection information, as well as the bagged tick, inside another sealed plastic bag. It is recommended but not required that you place the double-bagged tick in a freezer for one to two days to kill it prior to mailing it to:

Kathleen Walker

Forbes 410, Dept. of Entomology

University of Arizona

Tucson, AZ 85721