One Health: Lyme Disease Study a multidisciplinary collaboration

Students Josh and Elisha Musih observing Susan Howard as she demonstrates how to perform a tick drag.

Recently, Department of Global and Community Health (GCH) professor Dr. Michael von Fricken and his OSCAR students Josh and Elisha Musih, worked in partnership with GCH adjunct faculty member Susan Howard to capture ticks in Great Falls Park, Maryland. Susan Howard is also an instructor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy (ESP). This work is part of a larger national longitudinal research study examining tick-borne diseases, which is being carried out in collaboration with the National Park Service (NSP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Dr. Michael von Fricken assisting his OSCAR student in removing an adult Lone Star Tick (Amblyomma americanum) from sailcloth.

The National Park Service One Health Coordinator, Dr. Danielle Buttke, who is based in Ft. Collins Colorado, invited the Mason team to participate in this fieldwork as part of ongoing efforts to foster collaboration with local universities. According to Buttke, “Surveillance for vector-borne disease risk is currently lacking for most National Parks. This research will help us determine the prevalence of infected Ixodes scapularis ticks in recreational areas and to determine the relationship between deer density (adult ticks often feed on deer and amplify tick populations) and prevalence of infected nymphs.” Dr. von Fricken understands the urgency of this work because, “from a public health perspective, surveillance of vector-borne diseases is incredibly important, especially when you consider that cases of reported Lyme disease are increasing at a rapid rate in this region.” Susan Howard, who has been an NPS volunteer at Great Falls National Park since 2013, has been working on developing a localized One Health plan for park visitors to help protect them while they enjoy the park that she grew up in. She said that this research “will help inform health promotion and risk prevention measures that we would then recommend to park management.”

L-R: Michael von Fricken, brothers Josh and Elisha Musih, and Susan Howard checking dragged sailcloth for attached larva, nymphs, and adult ticks.

Department Chairs Dr. Bob Weiler (GCH) and Dr. Alonso Aguirre (ESP) have expressed their enthusiasm for these kinds of multidisciplinary collaborations not only between departments, but also with local parks and stakeholders. Dr. Aguirre, in particular, has been a strong proponent of One Health, explaining that “a One Health approach to studying infectious diseases in fragmented ecosystems may provide a unique opportunity for several institutions to work together, and not only to react but be proactive during epidemic situations.”