Many tick-borne diseases are not well characterized, especially those found outside endemic areas. The UNTHSC Center for Bio-Safety and Bio-Security, Tick-Borne Disease Research Laboratory, is currently involved in research endeavors to study the epidemiology, genetics and associated manifestations of potential emerging pathogens and to perform environmental monitoring of tick-borne pathogen populations in Texas, the southern United States and South America. To better understand and assist in identification of tick transmitted diseases, the Tick-Borne Disease Research laboratory has developed rapid diagnostic tests utilizing the same low-level DNA methodologies as many of today’s cutting edge forensic applications. These tests became the basis for testing all tick submissions made to the Texas Department of State Health Services (TX DSHS) Zoonosis Control Division as of October 1, 2004. Texas residents that desire testing should submit samples through their local health department’s zoonosis control office. Testing of ticks attached to Texas residents is provided through the TX DSHS at no charge.
How does the process work?
The Center for Bio-Safety and Bio-Security at the University of North Texas Health Science Center (UNTHSC), in a joint effort with the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) will analyze ticks for disease causing organisms in the Borrelia, Ehrlichia, and Rickettsia genera using DNA methodologies. Ticks must first be submitted to the DSHS Zoonosis Control office for genus and species identification, stage of development, and state of engorgement. This will allow for more accurate monitoring of the presence, location and pathogenisis of the various ticks found in Texas. Once this process has been completed, the DSHS will forward the samples to UNTHSC for DNA testing. There is no charge for testing; however, the DSHS will only accept specimens from Texas residents submitting from a Texas address. Submissions received from outside of Texas will not be tested and will not be returned to the submitter. Alternately, non-Texas residents and veterinary laboratories can submit directly to UNTHSC as a fee based service. Electronic submission forms for both the DSHS (Texas
residents) and fee based testing (UNTHSC) can be found at the bottom of this page.
How is testing performed?
The Tick-Borne Disease Research Laboratory uses direct detection of the pathogen’s DNA as evidence of infection. In samples where pathogen DNA is detected, sequence determination allows for identification of the organism at a genetic level. Testing includes amplification and identification of Borrelia spp., Ehrlichia spp. and spotted fever group Rickettsia spp. as a comprehensive screen. Screens for individual pathogens and testing for Bartonella henselae and Babesia microti are also available upon request, for a lesser fee.
What sources are appropriate as samples?
Ticks attached to humans or collected from their clothing. Both live and dead ticks are tested. Fee basis testing is available for non-human source samples and veterinary samples. Ticks regardless of engorgement level will be tested, although large amounts of heme have been shown to reduce PCR efficiency.
Results are either faxed or emailed to the submitting health care provider or laboratory within 4 working days of sample’s receipt at UNTHSC. Texas resident samples submitted through the TX DSHS will have the results reported back to submitting regional zoonosis control office.
Results can serve as documentation for a health record. Many tick-borne diseases may not present any initial clinical illness or exhibit virtually the same symptoms. It may be difficult for the health care provider to monitor and confidently evaluate a tick-bite patient or pet. In some cases a tick may be infected with and simultaneously transmit more than one pathogen, further complicating the clinical picture. While tick test results are NOT a diagnosis of illness, they can alert the health care provider of possible exposure to specific pathogens and provide information about potential health risks. This information may also facilitate expedient diagnostic and treatment decisions.
Any questions the general public has regarding the Tick-Borne Disease Research Laboratory or about sample submission requirements can be directed to:
Michael S. Allen, Ph.D.
Research Director, Tick-Borne Disease Research Laboratory
Department of Molecular and Medical Genetics
University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth
3500 Camp Bowie Boulevard
Fort Worth, TX 76107-2699
PDF Submission Form
Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS)
DSHS Zoonosis Web Link: http://www.dshs.state.tx.us/idcu/health/zoonosis/tickBites/